Sea Life Arizona is about as close as you can get in the Valley to life under the deep blue sea.
Standing amid its shadowy, otherworldly displays, watching colorful sea creatures swim gracefully overhead, it’s easy to become acutely aware of both the wonder of the oceans and the damage being done by the largest oil spill in history — the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We have had guests ask questions. They are mostly interested to know if there is a way they can help through Sea Life — if we were collecting money, sending volunteers, et cetera,” says Kelly Schwartz, spokeswoman for the aquarium.
The facility already works with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society to stop the illegal killing of whales.
“However, once the oil spill took place,” says Schwartz, “it seemed natural that Sea Life would look for a way to have a positive impact.”
To that end, the aquarium will host a drive for nylon pantyhose beginning Saturday.
Pantyhose, you say?
The stretchy ladies legwear, it turns out, is an indispensable tool for grassroots cleanup efforts in the Gulf. Environmental nonprofit Matter of Trust uses them to create oil-absorbent booms out of another seemingly odd but common material: human hair.
The group also uses animal fur and fleece.
“Simply put, we shampoo because hair collects oil. It soaks up skin oils, grabs oil from the pollution in the air, and it can soak up petroleum in oil spills.” says Lisa Craig Gautier, Matter of Trust’s president.
And unlike oil-based synthetic booms, she says, those made of natural fibers “are recycled materials. The natural fibers are renewable and abundant, and you don’t have to drill for them.”
Hundreds of thousands of pounds of hair and fur has been donated already, courtesy of salons, barber shops, pet groomers, and sheep and alpaca farmers across the nation. More than 25 East Valley businesses have been part of the effort.
“We have filled up 19 warehouses and have made over 25 miles of boom, which is about one-tenth of the mass of fiber we’ve received. Over 100,000 donations have come in, in bags, boxes, envelopes, truck loads,” says Gautier.
Now running out of space to store hair, the charity is in need of nylons to contain it all and get it out on the water. Once stuffed, pantyhose are uniquely effective in letting oil in and letting water out.
Matter of Trust’s booms have been deployed in waters off Alabama and Florida, and will soon be used near Grand Isle, La.
Gautier says BP’s recent containment of the leaking oil well won’t diminish her group’s need for materials.
“Oil will wash up with currents and tides and storms for months, if not years, long after the press and, thus, BP will move on,” she says.
Schwartz says Sea Life Arizona will collect nylons through July 30. Stockings with runs in them are acceptable, but they should be clean. You can simply drop off donations at the admissions desk, or stay and get $2 off per person with one nylon donation per person.
If you go
What: Donate nylons to help create booms for oil spill cleanup efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.
When: Nylons will be collected Saturday through July 30; hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.
Where: Sea Life Arizona at Arizona Mills mall, 5000 Arizona Mills Circle, Tempe
Cost: Donate nylons and get $2 off regular admission of $18.50 adults, $10.50 kids ages 3-12.
Information: (480) 478-7600 or www.sealifeus.com
Other ways to help
More than 300 Arizona businesses have sent hair, fur and fleece to Matter of Trust to help create oil-absorbent booms. Hair donations are on hold for now (the nonprofit’s warehouses are full), but the group will have an ongoing need for it in the months to come.
Meanwhile, Matter of Trust still needs anchor line, burlap bags, crawdad bags, nylons, zip ties and gloves.
Go to www.matteroftrust.org to connect with East Valley salons, barber shops and pet groomers participating in the effort (click on “Find Participants” on the left side of the page). The site also provides instructions on how to donate other supplies.