If we don't know what the sea is hiding, how can we protect it?

Treating the sea as a resource is personal for me. The images of numerous beach vacations with my lifeguard's dad are filled with a detailed observation of the environment. Children’s activities allowed me to experience the sea landscape with the fullness of my senses: the touch and the texture of algae taken straight from the water, catching tiny shrimps into plastic cups, sitting on heated stones. When I come back to the beach these days, I’m noticing unpleasant changes, such as the disappearance of the bladderwrack species. Throughout my life, I’ve witnessed the degradation of what I consider home.

The Baltic Sea is a habitat for various creatures: crabs, shrimps, clams, sea grass, algae, sponges. Marine biodiversity creates a fascinating, unique ecosystem that requires our attention and protection. One of the strategies is thinking about the sea in terms of a material resource. If we don't know what the sea is hiding, how can we protect it? I will show you by creating biodegradable materials of Baltic origin. You will experience three different species in use: the red macroalgae Furcellaria lumbricalis, seagrass and shells from clam Rangia cuneata. It’s a continuation of my bioplastic research, this time the goal is to create the material fully from local sources.

The most important thing is to understand the threats of the Baltic ecosystem. These include human interference with the coastline, overexploitation of resources, eutrophication and toxic pollution, invasions of non-native species and climate change. I believe that treating the Baltic Sea as a resource can increase care for its welfare. Otherwise, we will only have memories left.

[1] eutrophication means revitalizing the marine environment. It is currently the greatest challenge for the Baltic Sea. The concept that should be translated literally as "a lot of food" (from the Greek words "eu" and "tropy"), does not mean a positive phenomenon. On the contrary. The sea, affected by eutrophication due to its excess, is dying out (source: WWF).


Furcellaria lumbricalis

Furcellaria is a red algae, which is used to produce agar – a gelling substance used in the food industry and the production of bioplastic. In Poland, it is an endangered species – it has been exploited by man.

This is a species of red algae, which forms underwater meadows. It grows on stones immersed in deeper water. In Poland, it appeared in two forms: covering the seabed in fields, and forming meadows on the water surface. The Baltic resources were exploited over a period of  two years for the purposes of agar production. This depleted the Furcellaria fields and prevented more from growing. Because of this, in Poland, it is under species protection. 

Our design goal is to help create conditions conducive to the growth of algae, to enable their breeding again. What conditions do algae need for proper growth? They require a rocky bottom, adequate water transparency, salinity, and protection against waves. Young specimens in the growing phase especially need protection from waves, as this is usually naturally provided by older plants. The reference for the project is the already existing structures supporting the restoration of coral reefs. In response to this, a "soft reef" will be created – a soft artificial meadow, providing cover for the growth of algae. The soft reef will be made of a material of marine origin – e.g. furcellaria agar. This will allow the reef to gradually degrade, without introducing additional toxic substances into the sea.


Seagrass once abundantly covered the Gdańsk Bay. It was used as a filler for mattresses, and today it is used as an insulating material. It is an endangered species – its natural habitats are being destroyed.

This plant is under protection in Poland. It differs from ordinary grass with its special properties and range of applications; it can be a biofuel, an insulation material, used to produce soil and even act as a natural bubble wrap. Historically, seagrass was used as mattress fillers and to create roofing – similar to traditional Polish thatched roofs. Not only is it naturally resistant to fire, rot and pests, it also absorbs CO2. Its processing is carbon neutral. 

This combination of sustainability and heritage has caught the attention of Copenhagen-based American architect Kathryn Larsen, who works to transform seaweed into a modern building material. She has developed seagrass thatch panels and installed them on the roof of her university. 

This incredible material is treated like trash by local authorities. To keep the beaches clean for tourists, the excess seagrass is regularly removed and then disposed of in landfills. This exhibition will present seagrass insulating bricks- with the seagrass sourced from ethical farmers in Denmark.

Clams rangia cuneata

Rangia is an invasive species that threatens the native clams. However, species change in nature, and the excess can be used as a resource. International transport and home fishkeeping help invasions. In Warsaw, there are several ponds monopolized by Chinese aquarium clams, reproducing by division. They ended up there from the sewage system.

This is an invasive species; it spreads uncontrollably and poses a threat to the fauna and flora of non-native ecosystems, contributing to the extinction of local species. However, this rapid growth that threatens ecosystems can be an advantage: it allows for these species to be used as a resource. 

Rangia shells have thick walls made of calcium carbonate. When heated to 800 degrees celsius, they form the basis of an alternative lime and cement, often called shellcrete. The tradition of turning seashells into building materials is over one thousand years old, and comes from resource-poor communities. For example, it was commonly used to build in America. 

In old Poland, buttons were made of mother-of-pearl covering shells. Unfortunately this shell species soon was depleted to near extinction due to over extraction. 

At the rangia cuneata clam shell exhibition, we will exhibit concrete composites, which is softer, more flexible and breathable compared to hard, brittle cements. This concrete can be produced from seashells alone, while classic cements are a mixture of limestone with other, often toxic substances.

Fish skins

Fishskins have been used traditionally in many cultures. Currently, they are experiencing a renaissance, being a durable and cheap alternative to animal skins.

The use of fish skins to make clothes and utility items has a very rich tradition. Historically, fish skin was widely used in fishing communities. This raw material, commonly considered waste today, is beginning to arouse the interest of unconventional fashion designers and craftsmen. 

From raw fish skins, a delicate, shimmering material can be produced, which was well known to the native people of Siberia, China, Scandinavia, Japan, Alaska and Poland. 

The knowledge of tanning fish skins is one that had to be rediscovered by indigenous peoples, as they were actively banned from practicing their own traditions. We give acknowledgement to the indigenous artisans today working with this practice, and recommend supporting them directly: June Pardue, Hanna Sholl, and Karen Mcintyre, to name a few.

We used the wasted trout fish skins from the Market Hall in Gdańsk and salmon skins from Piotr Rębisz's Traditional Fish Smokehouse in Gdańsk in this project. The fish skin was tanned and colored with natural pigments: spirulina, turmeric, tree bark, tea, and wine. Then it was  joined seamlessly with fish glue from the removed, boiled scales, impregnated with oil, egg, and beeswax. 

The material was then used to create accessories: bags, balls and others. Today, most conventional leathers are made using harsh chemicals that are harmful to the tannery workers and the environment, where they end up as waste. The processing of fish skin is a much more delicate process that can be carried out using only natural products.

The threats of the Baltic Sea

The climate on Earth is constantly changing, but only those caused by human activity are so harmful. However, since we are able to negatively influence it, we are also able to take care of it.

Here we have highlighted the most important aspect, by identifying threats towards the Baltic Sea’s ecosystem. These include: physical interference with the coastline, overexploitation of resources, eutrophication and toxic pollution, introduction of invasive species and climate change. We believe that treating the Baltic Sea as a common source of resources can lead to increased care for its welfare. Otherwise, we soon will only have memories left, of what the sea once was.

The Baltic Sea is our social, cultural and material heritage. The shift towards traditional techniques of processing natural resources results from the need to restore our regenerative relationship with the natural environment. Taking care of the Baltic Sea is also a self-care act – our health is entwined with the health of our waters. In an era of increasing climate change, we need to increase awareness of protecting our marine habitats. We believe that by looking at our past, we can take care of our common future together.

Educational materials

display from aquariums


Physical destruction of habitats

display from aquariums

Artificial shore regulation, aggregate extraction and ship traffic are causing the degradation of the habitats essential for the Baltic algae. They need a rocky bottom to grow properly.


Overexploitation of resources

display from aquariums

Widlik black algae used to be a meadow in the Baltic Sea. Its exploitation to produce agar led to its extinction in just 2 years. Currently, the fork grows on the seabed, but in very small amounts. In 2018, an attempt was made to recreate the meadows to no avail.



display from aquariums

A huge amount of nutrients and organic matter enter the sea with pollutants. This increases the fertility of the water unnaturally.

The bloom of native algae, green algae – which has been natural for the Baltic Sea for centuries – is in abundance, obscuring the light. If light does not enter the depths – an important growth stimulant for native species of the Baltic Sea and a natural catalyst for purifying water from pollutants – the vicious circle is looping.


Toxic pollution

display from aquariums

Industrial and military waste and medicines are dumped into the sea. Their presence causes changes in the chemical composition of the water. Sea organisms are completely unadapted to highly toxic, non-decomposing foreign substances, they poison themselves with them.


Invasions of non-native species

display from aquariums

Migration of species to neighboring habitats due to anthropogenic reasons. Deliberate and accidental colonization of the Baltic Sea with foreign species, e.g. as a result of irresponsible aquarium hobby. The natural food chain is upset, and invasive species are often predators, decimating native populations.


Climate changes

display from aquariums

They cause the widest range of problems, such as changes in sea salinity, changes in temperature, direction and intensity of winds.