We Donated 3 Coral Reef Sculptures to the Maritime Aquarium!

coral coral reef CT artist sculpture upcycled art upcycling

Since the founding of cinder + salt in 2014, I've been interested in turning our printshop waste into sculptures of coral reefs. I can’t tell you why it’s been a fixation of mine, but it has, and the concept has finally come full circle with our donation of three mobile, 100% upcycled coral reef sculptures to The Maritime Aquarium in June 2023, in celebration of World Oceans Day.


It all began with the Lorax. As a young child flipping through the book I was enamored by the Truffula Trees. I wanted to live amongst the swommee swans and brown barbaloots. It was the beginning of my environmental activism journey. When the pandemic hit in 2020, I realized that the coral reef window and store displays we had built would be better off in a venue where more people could see them and be inspired to protect our oceans. I used the downtime to convert those art pieces into mobile fixtures.

Spongebob is  5'5" tall, 3'2" wide + 3'2" deep at base

In 2017, cinder + salt began transitioning to zero waste. Anything that we could responsibly recycle, we did. Everything else was turned into a reef. We also implemented clean waste recycling bins at our store around that time, and many of the materials we collected were used to create different coral species.

The base of each sculpture is a heavy platform - either a wooden box in the case of Big Boi, the long narrow reef, or a restaurant table top as was used on Wildbird & Spongebob. Each base is outfitted with multi-directional, locking casters so each reef can easily be wheeled around and firmly locked in place. 

Spongebob without it's sponges!!

Next, I adhered cardboard boxes onto the bases. The boxes would stay open and our team would deposit their non-organic “trash” in them. This might include waxed paper, films, packing tape, paper covered in ink (from the printing press), fabric and hardware scraps, misc plastic waste and many, many other things. Nothing in the boxes is recyclable or biodegradable and thus it needed to be turned into something permanent, to match it’s own inherent value.

Big Boi is  4'6" tall, 7' long + 2' deep at base.

Once a box was filled, the next box would be added. Boxes were secured to each other with hardware - screws, staples, clamps - strapping or wire and glue. Eventually the structures came together in modular, geometric but quasi-organic shapes. It was time to decorate!

Creating the corals is the most time intensive part. We have to organize all of our colorful “trash” and determine how we can manipulate it to look like known coral species. They are adhered to the structures with pins, glue and much patience. 

Wildbird is the smallest reef, measuring  5'5" tall, 3'2" wide + 3'2" deep at base


Some of the common styles we were inspired by are brain coral (packing peanuts), tube coral (shopping pouches), sea sponges (onion bags and bubble wrap combo) and fan coral (food wrappers & mylar). 

Overall, I estimate it took about 150 hours total to construct the three reefs. Of course, that estimate does not include the time our former window display coordinator Eileen had spent prototyping corals, and her initial work on the in-store displays. It also does not include the time of collecting and sorting the waste from our recycling bins, and the prepwork many of our part time employees have done over the years. These reefs were a community project between me, my company and all our awesome customers who trust us to not send their trash to the landfill.

After moving to the Maritime Aquarium, the reefs waited behind the scenes for their big debut at the World Oceans Week celebrations.

Collaborating with The Maritime Aquarium specifically was also a huge goal. They were top of my list because they are relatively local to our store, and more importantly, for being an aquarium that doesn’t host captive whales or cetaceans. As a former board member of Cetacean Society International, and huge fangirl of whales in general, the captivity of all whales and cetaceans is inexcusable. Whales are huge, sentient creatures who need vast open spaces to not only thrive, but survive. Captive whales are often medicated to keep them calm & “happy”. As an animal lover, and animal rights activist, I wanted to make sure these reefs found home in an institution that shares those values.

If you are local to Connecticut, or visiting the state on vacation, be sure to swing by the Maritime Aquarium to check out our reefs. They are mobile and will be moved to different locations over time, so if you can’t find them, just ask! Let us know what you think, or take a selfie and tag @cinderandsalt!

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