About The ETERNAL Experience

The ETERNAL Experience is an event series from LabX and the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences (CPNAS). The focal point for the series is ETERNAL, a 60-foot-long jellyfish constructed out of plastic bags that is on display at the NAS Building in Washington, DC through June, 2020. This sculpture by Maris Polanco points toward the issue of plastic in the ocean and the dangers it presents for ocean wildlife. 


The sculpture was made from plastic bags sourced from Maris Polanco and her friends over the course of three months. Floating in ocean tides, these not-so-ephemeral wisps of plastic resemble a favorite snack of many large sea creatures—jellyfish. The consequences of such mistaken identity are dire. A pilot whale dies, malnourished, with 20 pounds of plastic bags in her stomach. More than half of all sea turtles appear to have eaten plastic bags, thinking they were jellyfish. 

Plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes, yet scientists estimate that they take 500 to 1000 years to degrade. Plastic is referred to as “eternal” because it never completely breaks down. Even when plastic disintegrates from UV radiation, its pieces litter the tides in the form of micro-plastic, enter the food chain at the microscopic level, and then accumulate through biological magnification at successive levels up the food chain.

Maris Polanco is a Colombian-American biologist, artist, and educator based in Detroit, Michigan. She is an Adjunct Professor of Biology at Henry Ford College and Wayne State University. In the video below she speaks about why she created ETERNAL.