Through classroom and field activities, students sort, categorize and come up with a common definition of marine debris.

MARINE DEBRIS Composition and Abundance: Materials for Grades 4-5

Lesson 1: Beach Box Exploration
from Oregon Sea Grant

What is marine debris? Bring the beach into the classroom. In this activity, students explore contents of ‘beach boxes’ in groups at tables, sorting contents into “marine debris”, “NOT marine debris” and “not sure”.

What evidence did you use to decide if an item was marine debris or not? Did you detect any similarities or patterns in the box contents? Were you surprised to find particular objects in the box? Sort materials by other criteria such as materials, size, possible origin, etc.

Lesson 2: Human Impact Survey
from Alaska Seas and Watersheds, Alaska Sea Grant

Can we find evidence of marine debris on the beach? Students explore a local riverbank or beach and carry out a survey to assess human impacts on the area.  Students analyze and share their findings.

What were the main types of marine debris found at your study site? What further questions do you have about marine debris at your study site? How could you design an experiment to answer one of those questions?

Lesson 3: Quantifying Marine Debris - General Protocol  or Microplastic Protocol
from Plastic Beach Project, 5 Gyres

How much and what kind of marine debris is on the beach? Students use a sampling protocol to collect, sort and quantify (by number or by weight) marine debris collected from a beach. The 5 Gyres lesson uses the NOAA Marine Debris Shoreline Survey Field Guide and includes data cards for macro and micro marine debris.

Create a graphical representation of the types and quantity of marine debris collected. What kind of conclusions can you draw from your results? Share your findings with a community audience. Create a field guide to marine debris that can be used by local student/community groups.


Lesson 4: Trash Traits
from Turning the Tide on Trash, NOAA Marine Debris

What are some characteristics of marine debris? Students perform experiments to examine whether or not trash can float, blow around, or wash away.

Based on your experiments, which items have the greatest potential to become marine debris and why?


More about this focus area

Marine debris is any solid, persistent, human-created waste that has been deliberately or accidentally introduced into a waterway or ocean. Marine debris is a global problem which impacts ecosystems and organisms from shorelines to the ocean floor.

  • What is marine debris?
  • Where do we find marine debris?
  • What physical characteristics do marine debris materials have in common?
  • Marine debris is any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment.
  • Marine debris exists where humans can easily see it, as well as places where humans cannot easily see it.
  • The majority of marine debris is made of plastic materials.
  • PS1.A - Structure and Properties of Matter - Measurements of a variety of observable properties can be used to identify particular materials.
  • ESS3.C - Human Impacts on Earth Systems - Societal activities have had major effects on the land, ocean, atmosphere, and even outer space.  Societal activities can also help protect Earth’s resources and environments.