Endangered: Artist Melanie Cuno Speaks Out

The Leatherback Trust recently interviewed artist and conservationist Melanie Cuno. Her painting, “Endangered,” is 16"x20" acrylic on canvas. You can follow Melanie's work on Facebook and Instagram.

"Sea turtles specifically are struggling tremendously since plastic bags and debris look so similar to their favorite food: jellyfish."

Melanie Cuno

What do you hope viewers of this piece will take away?

I created this piece to show the reality of what is becoming our oceans—the beauty of the endangered leatherback sea turtle swimming in the rays of the sun, yet surrounded by plastic debris. Sea turtles specifically are struggling tremendously since plastic bags and debris look so similar to their favorite food: jellyfish. 

How does art communicate differently than other means?

I think art really draws viewers in visually, and to communicate a message after the viewer is captivated by the image may introduce that message to a larger audience than words would alone. 

What was your inspiration for this piece?

I have been very involved in environmental and animal rights issues over the past fifteen years, at least. The oceans themselves have moved to the forefront for me recently since moving closer to the ocean. Seeing the amount of debris on the beach and from boats, and reading more and more about how bad the plastic trash situation is in our oceans is very concerning to me. It is surprising to me how many people around me on a daily basis use so much plastic in the form of bags, cups, straws, etc. I hope with my art I can help spread awareness about how critical this issue is and how we can all help by cutting back on our plastic consumption. 

Leatherback sea turtles specifically have always been a favorite of mine since my days at UC Santa Cruz. They feed almost exclusively on jellyfish, which makes plastic debris a huge threat to them. They also are threatened by harvesting of their eggs and as [fisheries] bycatch.

Any advice for other artists?

When creating art, make sure the subject is something that touches your soul. It will be evident in your work.