Students address the complex, real-world problem of marine debris through multiple academic subjects.
"Marine debris is defined as any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment or the Great Lakes."
The Beach Box Exploration lesson comes from the Oregon Sea Grant created Marine Debris STEAMSS curriculum, and is an excellent introduction to the topic of marine debris. By bringing the beach into the classroom, students determine what kinds of objects make up marine debris. Students explore contents of ‘beach boxes’ in groups at tables, sorting contents into “marine debris”, “NOT marine debris” and “not sure”.
Guided questions include: 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? Could you sort materials by other criteria such as materials, size, possible origin, etc?
Teachers can make their own classroom sets of beach boxes. Alternatively, Oregon Coast educators can borrow Marine Debris Beach Boxes at no cost for up to two weeks from any of the Oregon Coast STEM Hub resource trailers.
In the Trash Traits lesson from NOAA's lesson Turning the Tide on Trash students perform experiments to examine whether or not trash can float, blow around, or wash away. Based on their experiments, they determine which items have the greatest potential to become marine debris and why. Similarly, in Monterey Bay Aquarium's Plastics in the Water Column lesson, students explore the densities of different plastics to see where in the water column they would likely be found. Then they relate the location of plastics in the water column to the feeding behavior of various marine organisms and discuss how marine debris can cause problems for different animals inhabiting a variety of ocean depths.
Through a survey of the schoolyard or local riverbank, students can make connections between trash found inland and marine debris found at the beach. Encourage students to think about how the materials found inland could make their way to the ocean to become marine debris.
Students can partner with community organizations and participate in a cleanup of the school campus, a local waterway or beach, or join another community cleanup project. They can quantify the materials they remove (type, weight, etc), add submit data to NOAA.
Create a graphical representation of the types and quantity of marine debris collected. What kind of conclusions can student draw from their results?
A beach clean up is the subject of the beautifully illustrated children's book Ellie's Strand: Exploring the Edge of the Pacific. Designed for readers in grade 4-6, this OSU Press publication is a sequel to Ellie's Log and Ricky's Atlas.
Book Description: "Ellie and Ricky travel to the Oregon coast from their home in the Cascade Mountains to help with a one-day beach cleanup. Hoping to find a prized Japanese glass float, they instead find more important natural treasures and evidence of an ocean that needs its own global-scale cleanup. Ellie and Ricky are amazed by their discoveries at the edge of the world’s largest ocean. Together, they realize the power of volunteering and grapple with the challenges of ocean conservation. In her journal, Ellie records her observations of their adventures in her own words and pictures."
Discoveries at the Edge of the Pacific: In 2019, Oregon Sea Grant held a professional development series focused around the book Ellie's Strand, nature journaling, and student-led ocean stewardship actions. Participating teachers implemented many activities that tie in well with marine debris focused MWEE units.
At school, students can form "Green Teams" analyze school waste, work with school and community partners to reduce, reuse and recycle materials, and set goals to make a difference locally and globally. Get involved with one of these programs:
Photo: Hundreds gather for Rise Above Plastic Pollution Day in Oregon - Oregon Surfrider Foundation
Students can use art to convey what they have learned about Marine Debris in a meaningful and impactful way. Art media can allow them to synthesize what they have learned about marine debris and incorporate their knowledge into a presentation or display that helps others both 1) understand the problem and 2) take actions that contribute to solving the problem. Explore drawing/painting, marine debris mosaics and sculptures, photography, or more. Students can create video or poster Public Service Announcements or submit artwork to regional or national competitions such as the NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest.
The NOAA Marine Debris Program is the U.S. Federal government's lead for addressing marine debris. Their website contains introductory resources to help learners discover the issue of marine debris, and much more: