Invasive Vines and Beach Plastic Cleanup

This Spring, Discovering the Ecological Self collaborated with the Monmouth University Climate Teach-In. Throughout the spring semester, DEcoSelf participants attended several Climate Teach In’s, where they learned about current climate crisis issues. The Teach-in, organized by Dr. Catherine Duckett, aimed to ” generate discussion about climate impacts and solutions with the goal of improving life for humans and other living things”. Using the knowledge gained from attending these events, participants brainstormed on how they could aid in mediating the climate crisis locally while educating their peers using Social Practice Art.

Climate Crisis Teach-in 2023

As part of the Climate Teach-In, Dr. Catherine Duckett gave this year’s DEcoSelf participants, AR-218 Scultpure II, students a presentation on the importance of native species, and how planting native plants support a variety of bird and insect groups. However, a major part of planting native plants is to first clear out non-native invasive species. Nonnative plants reproduce aggressively and spread from their planting sites, threatening native plants and the climate. Non-native species are not able to provide the right food or habitat for local species causing a negative impact on the ecosystem. Dean Duckett made students aware that the biggest invasive plants in NJ are the following:

• Oriental Bittersweet • Asian Honeysuckle
• Porcelain Berry • Japanese Knotweed
• English Ivy • Oriental Bittersweet
• Multiflora Rose • Porcelain Berry

Photographs and other ways to identify these plants are listed in the resources below, so if you have one of these plants in your yard, you can take action against the climate crisis now by removing them and replacing them with native plants.

For their social practice artwork, the students decided to focus on creating awareness of the climate crisis by clearing out invasive vine species and beach plastics and creating a sculptural object with the resulting waste. Invasive vine species cause costly economic and ecological damage each year including crop decimation, clogging of water facilities and waterways, wildlife and human disease transmission, threats to fisheries, increased fire vulnerability, and adverse effects for ranchers and farmers. Students were able to clear out an abundant amount of invasive vines at Van Court Park, including Porcelain Berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), and Multifloral Rose (Rosa multiflora).

Students learning how to identify and remove invasive vines at Van Court Park

“I remember hearing and making comments such as “We just saved this tree’s life” which left a rewarding feeling inside myself and others. It feels good to be helping nature and doing a small part of something good for our community and hopefully inspiring others to do so, or do so more often, in our community.”

– AR-218 student, Alexis Mangino

For their social practice artwork, the students decided to focus on creating awareness of the climate crisis by clearing out invasive vine species and beach plastics and creating a sculptural object with the resulting waste. Invasive vine species cause costly economic and ecological damage each year including crop decimation, clogging of water facilities and waterways, wildlife and human disease transmission, threats to fisheries, increased fire vulnerability, and adverse effects for ranchers and farmers. Students were able to clear out an abundant amount of invasive vines at Van Court Park, including Porcelain Berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), and Multifloral Rose (Rosa multiflora).

Students collecting and trimming invasive vines

At first, it was thought that the vines could be used to make a giant net, which reminded students of ways of fishing they had previously learned about during the Teach-Ins. While examining the collected vines and brainstorming what to use them for, students focussed on the threats of overfishing and the importance of sustenance fishing. Overfishing endangered ocean ecosystems and the billions of people who rely on seafood as a key source of protein. Without sustainable management, our fisheries face collapse and we face a food crisis. Although a widespread issue, many seem to dismiss the effects of overfishing, along with another detriment to our food source, ocean pollution. According to marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, “Unsustainable, unregulated fishing is a human rights disaster… and the archipelagic New York City, once surrounded by more than 40 square kilometers of wetlands and by oysters so abundant they were a navigational hazard, is now unprotected”. To aid in the stopping of ocean pollution, students collected plastics from beaches in Monmouth County, focussing on access sites- where there is a heavy concentration of plastics, especially water bottles. These were later used in the handmade traditional fish trap.

To bring attention to a climate crisis social justice issue, the students chose to use the collected invasive vines to create a traditional fish trap. Traditionally, fishing traps are made from natural materials found around people’s homes – reeds, twigs, bamboo, and palm leaf fibers. These traps are as effective as a simple fishing rod which many of the locals can also be seen using on the embankment of the river and which simply consist of a long twig, a piece of string, and a hook. Students watched videos and read articles to educate themselves about the origin and use of fish traps and learn how to weave natural materials together. The thicker branches from the Porcelain Berry plant were used as a foundation structure for the trap, and thinner Oriental Bittersweet vines were trimmed and tied to the foundation with twine. The invasive vines were crafted by students into an aesthetic, yet delicate traditional fish trap.

Using the fish trap as a metaphor, this public artwork demonstrates the consequences of the climate crisis when what’s caught in the trap is sea plastics instead of fish.

The devastating impacts of the climate crisis are already being seen in our local communities, and through their social practice work, the students are hoping to be a predecessor for change. You can also be a predecessor for change, by clicking the links below and seeing how you can act now.

Write to support the passing of the invasive species bill to Frank Pallone (U.S. representative for New Jersey’s 6th congressional district):

The New Jersey invasive species bill, S-2186/A-3677, sponsored by senators Bob Smith and Linda Greenstein, includes an initial list of invasive plants that could only be sold or cultivated with a permit from the state Department of Agriculture. To read the bill as it currently stands, go to:

To learn more about invasive species, go to the strike team website at

Resources on how the climate crisis affects us are listed below, along with how you can help:

Monmouth University’s Climate Crisis Teach-In:

Why Plant Native Plants:

What I Know About the Ocean:

Inspired by “Don’t Look Up”: Act Now on Climate Change | United Nations | Netflix

United Nations Global Goal 13: Climate Action

United Nations Global Goal 14: Life Below Water

Special thanks to Dr. Catherine Duckett for making this project possible.
-Dr. Catherine Duckett has planted 61 trees in her local community, private and public.
-She has created wildflower gardens at local schools.
-Runs climate teach-in lectures, teaching others about relevant issues.
-She has an example of no lawn. Homegrown natural park link.
-Native plant plants for free.
-Shades of green permaculture-free plans.

Leave No Trace – Death and Life

The goal of our project is to show that death is necessary to produce life.  Our idea changed many times throughout its creation. We originally intended to surround a flower with compostable materials to showcase decay giving way to life.  As we researched the nature of composting, we realized this was not the most realistic approach.  Instead, we opted to arrange stones in the outline of a human body and grow beans inside of the shape. The result was a public piece of bio art that represents deep ecology, and challenges our culture’s relationship to life and death.

Issues, Approaches, Strategy, Genre

  • This work is a public piece of bio art.
  • We focused on the issues of “waste,” and “systems.”  Waste because of the materials used to fertilize the beans, and systems because we are showcasing the relationship between decay and life. 
  • We took the approach of deep ecology, because we are challenging our culture’s relationship to the ideas of life and death.  
  • For strategy, we decided to celebrate the life that comes from death.

Relevant Artwork

Infinity Burial Project – Jae Rhim Lee

  • Examines modern funerary practices & embraces natural decomposition of the body
  • Uses fungi infused thread to remove toxins from within the body and soil around it, speed up decomposition, & return nutrients quicker 
  • Reinforces natural cycle of life

Throughout our research, we learned some fun facts regarding repurposing waste:

  • Composting can take as little as 10 minutes a week, on average.
  • Composting can reduce outdoor water expenses by up to 30%

Food for thought: If the 21.5 million annual tons of food waste were composted, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking over 2 million cars off the road.

Lending A Helping Hand

Feeding Chicken food scraps are not only good for the environment, but it is very beneficial for the chicken’s nutrition as well. Certain foods are proven to help speed up egg fertilization! Watermelon and other fruits carry Vitamins and antioxidants! Corn can help boost a chicken metabolism as well as regulate their body temperature! Any greens are a great treat for our feathered friends, they are full of vitamins and minerals that will help keep happy and healthy chickens!

Food Waste

Did you know that 14.7 million tons of food waste happen in the United States? The Land Fills are overflowing, but we can all take a step forward and prevent this! So how can you help? By composting or in this case by putting those scraps to good use! We can all come together and spread this awareness on how food waste affects our environment, also affects climate change. Landfills over time will decompose and release methane emissions. A greenhouse gas that is even more potent than carbon dioxide (Deer, 2022).

Community Giving Back

Community awareness of food waste is an important step for the future. By informing the community of where their scraps actually end up after they throw them in the garbage, we can create a ripple effect for the better. By feeding natural food waste to the chickens, we are eliminating the amount of waste that ends up in landfills as a community as well as giving back to the chickens that support us.

Why you should help?

By donating your scraps, you are helping to keep your food waste out of landfills and repurposing them for a greater good. We are feeding the food waste to chickens, but you can still help in other smaller ways at home by being conscious about what you are throwing away and even giving food scraps to other animals if it is safe for them to eat.

The Helpful Hand

We decided on the name “Helpful Hand” because the hand provides a natural symbol of generosity and vulnerability that brings out the themes that we wanted to express through our art piece. The idea of the Helpful Hand was to express gratitude and celebration for the chickens and their role in the environment as well as protecting their habitat. By making the hand out of food that the chickens could eat, we are not leaving a trace on the environment because we are building the sculpture to be completely eaten and essentially giving back to the chickens without leaving a footprint.

What makes up the Helping Hand?

The foundation of the Helping Hand is chicken wire, which the chickens are already familiar with being around so it will not disturb their natural habitat. The filling within the palm is lettuce scraps with larger lettuce leaves covering the chicken wire for aesthetic purposes and the fingers were constructed from corn on the cob fixed onto the base with wooden dowels. We decided on having the hand hold a apple. A natural bowl made out of half of a honeydew melon filled with food waste collected from the community as apart of the main structure for the chickens to eat. Some of the scraps that chickens are able to eat consist of other leafy greens, fruit peels (except for citrus) and other vegetable scraps.

Tree Mask Project

The Tree Mask is a public artwork demonstrating the personification of trees in reaction to deforestation. Our goal for the project was to create awareness about deforestation. On-campus there have been a number of trees removed, we wanted to educate others about the importance of trees because of the benefits that trees provide to society. Through the personification of the tree, we wanted to show the connection between humans and trees, both are living and breathing, striving to survive the waves of climate change.

Deforestation is the act of clearing land by humans for human use like grazing lands, croplands, or wood production (Deforestation). Deforestation presents a global issue in the face of global warming through the increase of greenhouse gasses from the large amounts of carbon dioxide produced from the machines or slash-and-burn method used to clear the forestland.

Eco Art students wanted to create a public artwork the dramatized and educated individuals about the concept of deforestation. From the issue of deforestation, we began looking at how trees, humans, and other living creatures interact with one another. This concept stemmed the concept of personifying the trees to have human or animal characteristics. Once the idea was established, they decided that using natural materials like leaves, tree bark, and sticks would appropriate for the structure of the face.

Eco Art – Deforestation

The project we created as a class was to bring awareness to and help combat deforestation. More specifically, we wanted to bring attention to the deforestation occurring on a more personal and local level; as in the deforestation occurring in our town due to new real estate developments.  Our project involved the creation of masks, made of eco materials, that we then attached to the trees on campus. We made the masks to bring attention to the trees that are around us.

Often times, especially in more urban settings, people do not ten to acknowledge the trees around them and therefore do not notice when those trees are cut down or removed for whatever reason. The masks we made were all different from one another and served different purposes. One purpose they had in common, however, was to enchant our audience. It is not often that you see faces on the trees on your way to class, so we wanted to provide a sense of wonder, curiosity, and enchantment to the students, faculty, and visitors on campus.

Written by Mindy Penelli

Students in the Eco Art course collaborated on a deforestation project, anthropomorphizing trees in an effort to bring awareness to the climate issue of deforestation. Creating masks from eco materials in conjunction with the “Leave No Trace” assignment, the masks were a way to bring attention to the trees. Students researched the species and symbolic meaning behind each tree as a way to further their message and help bring more awareness to their cause. During Monmouth University’s Scholarship Week, the class set up a table outside daily by the tree display to help fund the planting of new trees through the Arbor Day Foundation.

More research and photos can be found at the following link:

To donate:

The Veins of Mother Earth

At the beginning of my semester-long internship, we spent a lot of time looking at various nature symbols and really digging into their meaning, especially in terms of culture, religion, and science. One of the very first symbols I chose to look into was the river. I have no immediate connection to any particular river, but while being guided through a quick mediation I visualized myself in a jungle with my mom who led me to this long, wide, river running across our path. My mom is from the Philippines and she would often talk about bathing in the river near her village or helping her mom do laundry in it and watching her waist-length hair swirl in the water.

Taking what little connection I had to this body of water, I did some research. As I was reading through various sites and sources, one particular line stood out to me. “Waters rolling as Time itself, as if veins of the Great Mother Earth”. This struck something visceral within me and caught me off guard. Surprised by the emotional response, I let myself think about it more and sit with this intense feeling. Of course the rivers are the veins of Mother Earth. Scientifically, rivers can be defined as “large, natural channel containing water that flows downhill under gravity. A river system is a network of connecting channels”. So, what are veins if not networks of channels which carry life-sustaining fluid away? Fresh water is necessary for life and without it we wouldn’t be where we are today as a species, as an ecosystem, as a planet.

Rivers have been recognized as important fixtures in the natural world before written history, and as civilizations became more stable, their fascination and respect for them started to be documented through stories and myths. The Book of Symbols references various rivers mentioned throughout time, discussing familiar examples like those found in the depths of Tartarus in Greek mythology, such as the Lithe and Styx, which had magical properties or roles within the underworld. Rivers were also mentioned in Asian mythology, with one example being Chinese. First written in the pre-Qin period, this creation myth describes how the first humans came about. The goddess Nuwa created man using clay from the Yellow River. In my mom’s home country, the river was and are lifelines in a cultural and community sense as I’ve mentioned before. In mythology, some indigenous groups believed that humans came from eggs laid by the limokon bird with a man and a woman emerging on opposite sides of a river.

Rivers being so prevalent in culture and religious contexts for so long highlights our innate ability and desire to respect and care for the Earth as it provides us with so much. Things like fresh, drinkable water are taken for granted and the communities who were the first protectors of the Earth are often denied access to or stripped of this precious resource. In thinking of rivers in the context of the veins of Mother Earth, we will be better equipped to protect these vital bodies of water and by extension, the entirety of the Earth. Rivers and water are essential to life and should be protected and respected out of appreciation for all it has granted us. I would like to include one more quote from a Mojave-American poet and Native activist, Natalie Diaz: “I mean river as a verb. A happening. It is moving within me right now”.


Kuipers, Andre. Earth Observations Taken by the Expedition 31 Crew. Colorado River, 30 Apr. 2012.

“The First Water Is The Body.” Postcolonial Love Poem, by Natalie Diaz, Graywolf Press, 250 Third Avenue North, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN, 2020.

“River” UXL Encyclopedia of Science. . 15 Apr. 2021 <>.

Ronnberg, Ami, and Kathleen Martin. The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images. Taschen, 2010.

Justin DeMattico – 2020 D-Eco-Self Intern

Introducing the 2020 D-Eco-Self Intern: Justin DeMattico is a studio art major pursuing his B.A. at Monmouth University. He has a background in all types of mediums including charcoal/graphite, clay sculpting, digital media, intaglio, and acrylic/oil paint to name a few but strongly prefers working in oils. A strong influence in some of his work is his faith and love for nature and animals.  He is interested in the Discovering the Ecological Self project due to his interest in nature and how humans not only influence the world around them but interpret them through symbolism and alternative meanings. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, DeMattico worked on the new D-Eco Self social media, merchandise and blog posts. In the future, DeMattico would like to become a professor at a university and help others discover and hone their love for art as well. Working with students like those from Aslan Youth Ministry on this project is beneficial in learning how to teach topics like these as well as bridging topics like the environment and art together in a classroom setting.

Student Scholarship Week – D-Eco-Self 2019

AR 218 Sculpture 2 Students participated in the 2019 Service Learning Scholarship Week Poster Session sharing their work about their D-Eco-Self collaboration project and artworks that they made with Aslan Youth Ministry and MU Science. Denice Michalchuk, our D-Eco-Self 2019 Research Assistant, created the poster, and Daniella Russo, our D-Eco-Self 2019 Project Assistant, presented to a packed crowd during the event.

To view pictures of images and artwork check out the gallery or read the blog posts!

Tree Rings=Lifespan 2019

The science students taught us about the life cycle of a tree, as well as dendrochronology, the study of tree rings. Each year a mature tree develops another tree ring, so when a tree is chopped down, we can count approximately how many years it has been alive.


We then learned about the symbolism of different colors in art, and how those colors are used in art throughout the ages. For example, in some paintings and artwork yellow symbolizes happiness, so we looked at Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh, or pink represents femininity, as in Dancers in Pink by Degas, as well as other pieces. We then brought these two concepts together in order to create our own colorful tree rings. Each tree ring is assigned to an important person in the student’s life, from childhood to the present. Assigning a color based on its symbolic meaning to each person, each tree ring is unique to each individual.


For a full gallery of images and artwork from the entire 2019 D-Eco-Self Trees, click here. 

Seeds=Potential 2019

We took a trip to the greenhouse on Monmouth University campus, once there, the science students exchanged thoughts regarding the importance of roots, and how they provide a tree with the water it needs to grow. They also discussed how water travels like pathways through the tree to evenly distribute water. Trees also bare leaves and fruit from their branches.


When we returned to the classroom, we looked at botanical drawings which were once a way of documenting herbs and their medicinal purposes. By taking inspiration from these drawings in how the roots, seed and plant are shown, we made our own botanical drawings on scrolls. Using gouache paint, we painted a seed to represent our hopes and dreams. From the seeds grow an imagined plant that represents the accomplishment of that hope or dream. The roots that extend below each plant creates a foundation for the seed to grow.


For a full gallery of images and artwork from the entire 2019 D-Eco-Self Trees, click here.