"Yesterday morning as I emerged from the surf following my swim workout, I saw a seagull trying to ingest a half-split blue racket ball. The scene was eerie, like something out of Hitchcock's 'The Birds.' I chased the gull off and recovered the object to throw into my growing collection of #PlasticSpecies body parts."
That's an entry in Brent Alex's blog, written when the photographer's germinal awareness of plastic pollution's toxic effects was taking root. He's gone on to document a new "plastic species," such as his Mylar Ray, an errant, deflated Mylar balloon seemingly swimming at depth, animated by ocean currents instead of wind.
"A close relative to Styro Shark, almost nothing is known of this 8 family suborder Mylarbatoidei," Alex explains in the "liner notes" for his series. "This ray does not appear to have a tail or modified dermal denticle (barbed stinger), but this demersal should be approached and observed with extreme caution due to possible skin reactions from what appears to be a radioactive chemical dermal layer. The creature moves with semi-predictable undulation."
"I once swam head first into one, nearly giving myself a heart attack," Alex writes in his blog. "I couldn't breathe as it suctioned its alien body over my airways. Clawing it away from my mouth in horrified panic, I gasped for precious oxygen. That moment has stayed with me."
Alex hopes his science-meets-art series "Plastic Species™" will inspire and educate children about the impact of plastic pollution on our oceans (a children's books may be in the works). "I observe the discovery of these new plastic species as if I am Darwin. These new invasive species emulate existing marine species in form and function."
Currently, Alex is working closely with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy and Los Angeles Waterkeeper to preserve land and restore habitat in the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Malibu, Calif. and his hometown of Rancho Palos Verdes, a peninsula in south Los Angeles County.
Follow Brent Alex on Instagram @brent.alex.