Students look for evidence to determine whether marine debris objects originated from land or sea, and how ocean currents affect debris distribution.

MARINE DEBRIS Sources and Transport: Materials for Grades 4-5

Lesson 1: Campus Debris and the Ocean
from Oikonos for the City of Benicia, CA

Can we find evidence of trash in our local upland area? In this lesson, students follow a scientific data collection procedure to collect and analyze debris at their school campus. They compare their results to a larger existing marine debris database in California, and make connections between campus debris and marine debris using the concept of watersheds.

What were the most common types of trash found in your study site? Could any of these materials end up as marine debris? Why or why not?  Why is it useful to identify potential sources of marine debris?

Lesson 2: Ocean's Deadliest Catch

How does trash become marine debris? Students collect debris on their school campus and compare the quantify of plastic with a similar sample at the mouth of the river where it empties into the ocean.  In addition, they use drifters to demonstrate how trash found in inland waterways can move through the watershed and end up as marine debris.

Ask students to engineer their own drifter made from biodegradable materials and use it to determine how long it takes trash to the ocean. How does a drifter model the movement of marine debris through the watershed? Based on the rate of speed you calculated for your drifter, how long would it take your drifter (or a piece of trash) to reach the ocean?


Lesson 3: Ducks in the Flow
from NESTA Windows to the Universe

How do surface currents affect marine debris? This interdisciplinary lesson centers around a storybook and three related classroom activities.  In the story, three children work together to learn about surface currents and the seafaring history of a plastic duck found on a beach. Students engage in reading, writing, and science process skills.

Choose a piece of marine debris and write a story about its journey to and around the ocean.


More about this focus area

There are many different sources of marine debris. From intentional littering on land and in waterways, to improperly covered trash bins, items often travel by wind and currents long distances before settling on beaches or on the ocean floor. Marine debris can come from anywhere in a watershed, and be carried by rivers, streams, and other waterways into the ocean. Marine debris can aso be generated in the ocean through lost cargo and fishing gear, and even dispersed by natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis.

  • Where does marine debris come from?
  • How does marine debris get into the ocean?
  • How does marine debris move around the ocean?
  • There are many sources of marine debris, but most comes from land
  • Debris travels from waterways and through watersheds into the ocean
  • Ocean currents and wind move marine debris throughout the ocean

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.