Skip to main content
Making Turtle Waves
UPDATE: May 1, 2019

turtle waveWe did it! We made 3,600 paper turtles, glueing them onto ten blue silk “waves” to create a cascading spiral of ocean beauty in the Pacific Seas Aquarium.

And we raised $10,068 for ocean conservation, thanks to the Ocean Art Challenge sponsored by the Bezos Family Foundation, and all the hundreds of Tacomans who made turtles.

Way to go, Tacoma! Catch the Wave on the tour: dates here.

Making Turtle Waves

mom and boy with paper turtles
Keilan Fowora and mom Lisa hold up their paper turtles during a turtle art event at the STAR Center.

The look on Keilan Fowora’s face was priceless.

“Are these real?” asked the seven-year-old, running his fingers over a sea turtle shell and the sharp teeth on a shark jaw bone.

“Yep, they’re real,” assured Heather Detwiler, outreach associate for Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, standing behind the table at Tacoma’s STAR Center.

Then Keilan’s eyes grew bigger as he noticed the colorful paper sea turtles dotting a blue wave of fabric nearby. Detwiler smiled. “And if you make one of these turtles, we’ll hang it up in the new aquarium and you’ll be helping to save real turtles and sharks,” she added.

Picking up a blue crayon, Keilan began coloring.

It was just one day of “Turtle Wave,” a community art project organized by Zoo and Metro Parks Tacoma staff that aims to make hundreds of paper sea turtles to raise money for ocean conservation – with a grand finale in the Pacific Seas Aquarium April 26-28.

It takes a village to make a wave

boy making paper turtle
Making paper sea turtles for the Turtle Wave project at the STAR Center in Tacoma.

Turtle-making days are happening through April at venues from community centers to museums to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital. Anyone can color sea turtles (or fold an origami one), then glue them onto a wave of blue fabric. Every turtle will raise $2 for ocean conservation (or $4 before April 22), thanks to a worldwide Ocean Art Challenge sponsored by the Bezos Family Foundation.

At most events, Zoo staff will be onsite with marine biofacts (like the shark jaw) and a hands-on display of plastic retrieved from sea birds, plus reusable alternatives, to highlight one of the ocean’s biggest challenges – plastic pollution.

two boys and turtle shell
Two boys admire a sea turtle shell at a Turtle Wave art-making event at the STAR Center. Each paper turtle raises $2 to help ocean animals like turtles.

Finally, the Turtle Wave will be installed in the Pacific Seas Aquarium April 26-28, with fabric waves suspended in a blue spiral from the ceiling. Zoo guests will be able to add their turtles to the Wave all weekend long, before the total is counted and submitted to the Challenge. It’s all part of the Zoo’s month-long Pacific Seas Aquarium Community Celebration this April.

The project will then tour community venues, including the Eastside Community Center (May 17-28), Tacoma Ocean Fest at the Foss Waterway Seaport (June 9) and People’s Community Center (June 16-28).


Art to save the sea

adding paper turtles to art
Keilan Fowora advises artist Robert Sevin on where to place his paper turtle on the Turtle Wave. The blue fabric sheets will be suspended in the Pacific Seas Aquarium April 26-28.

For kids like Keilan and their families, it’s a fun, creative way to show that when it comes to protecting the ocean, everyone can make a difference.

“This is so great,” said Lisa Fowora, Keilan’s mom. “We love the Zoo, and it will be Keilan’s first time in the new aquarium this month. I just love sharks – they are so peaceful, swimming by.

We’re teaching our kids how to be respectful of all animals, and about the plastic in the ocean. We always pack a reusable lunch box – even my husband, who’s in the Air Force.”

Everyone who makes a turtle is invited to write on the shell a personal pledge to help the ocean, whether using less single-use plastic, skipping straws, cleaning up a beach or more.

paper turtle
Keilan Fowora’s turtle, with his personal pledge to help the ocean: “No plastic.”

For Keilan, it was bringing his own reusable cup and straw.

“My favorite colors are blue and green,” he added, pointing proudly to his turtle halfway up the fabric.

Nearby, Teiya Prim, 8, and her three-year-old brother Lincoln were busily coloring.

“This is really cool,” smiled mom Thiery Prim, who says her kids are already huge advocates for recycling and conservation. “I love that the Zoo can raise money for the ocean with something so many kids can do. And having things to touch bridges the gap so kids can understand the need to protect the ocean.”

MAKE A TURTLE: Come make a paper sea turtle and glue it onto the “wave” at Eastside Community Center (11am-1pm April 20), Tacoma Nature Center (12-4pm April 20) and the Pacific Seas Aquarium (10am-4pm April 26-28).

AT HOME: Or download the pattern and bring yours to the Zoo before April 28.