Sea Walls Festival: Striking Murals are an SOS About the State of our Seas

In March this year, a team of 50 volunteers including 30 international street artists gathered in the small seaport town of Napier, New Zealand to deliver an urgent and powerful message to the world. Over the two weeks of Sea Walls, Murals for Oceans Festival, the artists took to the streets and created 30 huge murals that aimed to educate people on the most pressing issues facing the ocean’s ecosystems today. Not only did it completely transform the streets of Napier, but the event made a huge impact that gained international attention, and it is not hard to see why. Below are the 30 incredible murals created throughout the festival.

Christopher Konecki (USA)

Bryde’s Whales & Fishing Ships Colliding Over Resources

“It is incumbent upon us to be stewards of the ocean. My piece depicts an endangered Bryde’s Whale with its head in the form of a local fishing vessel, one brutal cause of death for Bryde’s Whales being ship strikes. It shows the relationship between mankind and nature while being locked in competition for resources.” – Christopher Konecki

Charles and Janine Williams (NZ)

New Zealand’s Endangered Sea Birds – Bar Tailed Godwit

“Our mural is about the naming of Napier in Maori. The name comes from a chief who unblocked the flooded west shore. What he did was something I felt was quite courageous and selfless. It’s something we can learn from as we move and share our stories, inspirations, what we believe in. Part of the design is traditional Maori Roimata, a design that is used in times of tragedy and loss. There has been a lot of tragedy and loss that has taken place in our oceans.

The bird is a Godwit that migrates from Alaska and flies 11,000 kms direct. I think we can learn a lot from the Godwit as humans – its focus, its determination and strength in flying all the way from the other side of the world. What can we also learn about staying focused?” – Charles Williams

Carly Ealey (USA)

Climate Change and Ocean Acidification

“The oceans are our life support system, providing over 70% of the oxygen we breathe, however we are changing the chemistry of the ocean, and with it the ability to sustain life. The oceans act as a buffer and absorb nearly a third of all carbon emissions and 90% of heat caused by greenhouse gases. When CO2 is absorbed, it reacts with water to form carbonic acid, which is detrimental to species such as corals and shellfish that can no longer build their exoskeletons.

Jellyfish survive unharmed in CO2 rich environments and compete with fish and other predators for food – mainly smaller zooplankton – and they also eat young fish themselves. If jellyfish thrive under warmer, more acidic conditions while most other organisms suffer, it’s possible that jellies will dominate the ecosystems (a problem already seen in parts of the ocean).” – Carly Ealey

Cinzah Merkens (NZ) and Jason Botkin (CA)

Marine Protected Areas – The Interrelationship Between Species & Habitats

“This massive 300 ft collaboration explores significant Maori and global nautical mythologies, featuring the entangled bodies of a long-fin eel (the largest and the only endemic freshwater eel species of New Zealand that is in a threatened condition), and an octopus covered in the face markings of traditional Maori ‘Tā moko’.

Also featured are guest appearances from various birds and aquatic life that have long been a food source for the people of these islands, which are now facing dramatically lowered regional populations.” – Cinzah Merkens

AmandaLynn (USA) and Dirty Bandits (USA)
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New Zealand Endangered Sea Birds

As AmandaLynn and Dirty Bandits illustrate the beautiful nature of New Zealand’s Fairy Tern and Chatam Island Taiko, the hope is to enhance an appreciation of these endangered creatures. This piece acts as a reminder to treat nature with care.

“No amount of regret later can bring back these birds once they are gone.” – AmandaLynn and Dirty Bandits

Askew One (New Zealand)

Climate Change & Ocean Acidification

Askew One incorporates his unique photo-realistic portraiture half submerged in water, with underlying abstract elements of plush land and greenery above water and emanating concerns of ocean acidification and rising sea levels below.

Celeste Byers (USA)

NZ Endangered Sea Birds – Fiordland Penguins

Celeste’s mural addresses the endangered Fiordland penguins who nest in the rainforests and ocean rock caves of New Zealand’s South Island when they’re not living in the sea. Their populations have decreased since human arrival and in the past 35 years their population has gone down from 10,000 breeding pairs to 3,000.

“Humans have caused a loss of their habitat, oil spills, and have introduced the biggest threat to the species – predators, such as dogs, cats, stoats, and rats.” – Celeste Byers

Aaron Glasson (NZ)

Marine Protected Areas

‘Pania of the reef’ is a historical Maori story of love and respect for the ocean that has become one of Napier’s most well known symbols and is retold throughout New Zealand. Pania was a sea maiden who married a local man, their shape-shifting son More can be seen today in the form of sea animals that serve as an omen, and Pania’s body now makes up Napier’s most famous reef.


Aaron worked closely with local Maori and the family of Pania to create his mural that depicts the story of her life, painting her descendants in the role of Pania and creating a contemporary interpretation of this meaningful story.


“It’s an important story that I think deserves more visibility. I hope that with this mural I’m helping to pass the story on both to locals and visitors and also show Pania in a different light.”- Aaron Glasson

Vexta (AUS)

New Zealand Endangered Sea Birds

“I’ve painted the New Zealand storm petrel which was considered to be extinct from around 1850, and was then rediscovered in 2004 on the west coast of the North Island. It was in that very first wave of extinction. It’s an interesting reminder that there’s a lot of stuff we don’t know about in the world, and a lot of mystery within nature and within our oceans. With this bird that was thought to be extinct and then it was like a second chance to appreciate it and make sure it survives because it is still critically endangered.

The colored triangular shapes in my work are symbolic of the atomic particles that form all matter and the links that connect us all. In this piece they are used to convey a sense of the earth suspended on the wall with the storm petrel hovering or emerging from within.” – Vexta

Two One (JPN)
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New Zealand’s Endangered Sea Birds – Chatham Island Shag

“The Chatam Island shag is an endangered native sea bird. This is a message from nature that we should be listening to and see what is really happening. The cause of the Chatam Island shag’s decline is not known, but its not hard to imagine that it’s probably connected to human-caused distortion in the small area that they live.” – Two One

Trust Me (NZ)

Sustainable Fishing

“I’m a fisherman. I’ve got my own personal feelings about sustainable fishing practices. Part of the lifestyle of living in New Zealand is having access to fishing and a right to pursue that based on recreation or providing food for your family – which is what commercial fishing is doing, but just on a larger scale. But commercial fishing puts a lot of pressure on commercial fish stock.

When you start to look at New Zealand’s own regulation of its fishing industry, they have appointed targets and they have systems in place – a framework that on face value is quite rigorous for managing fish stock. And they’ll report on catch amounts and limits. But who set that limit? And is it actually sustainable? Who knows?” – Trust Me

Noelle Anderson (USA)

Shark Conservation

Nearly 100 million sharks are killed by humans every year, which is really ironic considering the way we view sharks. People view sharks as dangerous monsters that are threats to our own personal safety but we are the ones who are so severely threatening their populations. They’re extremely important to all marine ecosystems, but they’re also beautiful and tranquil and they’re not killing humans. That’s actually a very rare occurence. I’m trying to capture them in that mellow, esteemed, respectful light. Not this misunderstood, harsh, violent light.” – Noelle Anderson

Meggs (AUS) and Phibs (AUS)
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Plastic Pollution

Every minute a garbage truck full of plastic makes its way into the earth’s oceans, and plastics are expected to outweigh fish by the year 2050. Every single piece of plastic ever made still exists on earth and now it is breaking down into tiny particles in our seas.

“Our mural focuses on this spectrum of plastic pollution – from large scale debris, which poisons, chokes, and kills mammals and deep sea fish, to the smaller particles that are being eaten by all sea creatures. Our personal mantra is to ‘live with less’ and reduce our consumption of non-biodegradable products. We are rapidly killing our planet, and ultimately ourselves.” – Meggs

“It is the responsibility of us all to protect, respect, and care for our Mother Earth and all her beauty.” – Phibs

Spencer Keeton Cunningham (USA)

Shark Finning

“I’ve created these half human, half shark creatures that have taken to the land now. They’re no longer in the sea. They’ve come to cultivate humans in a sense, like how we have been cultivating them for their fins. Sharks are really specific to this area for me. The fact that you can still get shark fin soup here is terrible. I did an interview with a woman yesterday who was from Chinese ancestry, and she’s had it, and she didn’t even know the process of harvesting – that they bring the shark on deck, cut of its fins, and throw the body back. I hope that maybe my mural could educate people a little bit.” – Spencer Keeton Cunningham

Techs (NZ)

Industrial Runoff

“My piece is targeted towards Tangata Whenua (Maori people) and how it is our obligation as guardians to look after the ocean and the land. The wall depicts a whale and a pukaea – which is a war trumpet to signal to the tribe that something bad is coming. It’s cut up in sections between the whale and the pukaea. It’s also to show that the whale is a taonga (gift) that we should hand down to the future generations. “What’s a Profit Today is a Debt for Tomorrow,” means, “What you steal from the ocean today is taking from the children of tomorrow.” – Techs

Morag Shaw (NZ)
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New Zealand’s Endangered Marine Animals

New Zealand’s endangered sea life is less visible to the public eye than those animals that live on land. The Bryde’s whale is adversely affected by commercial and recreational boating, Maui’s dolphin by net fishing, and the Chatham Island shag by human activity.

“My mural is an SOS, a mayday call for action.”

Mica Still (NZ)

Ghost Fishing

“Ghost nets are lost or discarded fishing gear that continue to fish, trap animals, entangle and potentially kill marine life, smother habitats and are a hazard to navigation. I want my wall to show the ocean trying to survive the chaos of the nets through the infinity symbol. It expresses how the cycle of nature is being disrupted by these ghost nets.” – Mica Still

Frank and Mimi (AUS)

Responsible Consumption

“We are all consumers and the market responds to every one of our desires, but by becoming a responsible consumer we change the fundamentals of the mass consumption market. We have investigated the “hyper-optimism” that comes from vintage advertorials, and how they are often ironically selling products that are detrimental to both the consumer and the environment. We’ve made a satirical comment about consumption by marrying the typography with a fallen media icon, and the collaged coral begins to reclaim its natural environment in an effort to regain equilibrium.” – Frank and Mimi

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