Explore some of our most popular marine debris resources for educators.

Annual NOAA Marine Debris Program Art Contest and Calendar

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Art Contest
Artwork of a colorful mermaid and ocean life surrounded by grey debris.
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The NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest is now closed! Check out the 2023 Marine Debris Calendar, now available for download!

Annual Marine Debris Program Art Contest Overview

The NOAA Marine Debris Program holds an annual art contest to reach K-8 students and help raise awareness about marine debris. Marine debris is a global issue and we believe that engaging our youth is an important part of addressing the problem. The resulting calendar, featuring the winning artwork, provides a daily reminder of how important it is for us to be responsible stewards of the ocean. Students are highly encouraged to check out resources on this website for information about marine debris.

Who is eligible to enter the contest?

All students in kindergarten through eighth grade from all U.S. states and territories in recognized public, private, and home schools are eligible to participate. Schools, including home schools, must be in compliance with federal and state civil rights and nondiscrimination statutes. Students may submit entries on their own or as part of a classroom, but must work individually.

Entry Requirements

Each entry must be composed of a piece of artwork and a description (on the entry form). All must meet the requirements below. A NOAA awards panel will collect all entries and select 13 winners to be featured in a marine debris calendar. Entries will be judged on the creativity, artistic presentation, and relevancy to the theme of:

  1. How marine debris impacts the ocean and the Great Lakes environment.
  2. What you are doing to help prevent marine debris.

Artwork & Description Requirements:

  1. One entry per student.
  2. The entries must be on a single sheet of 8.5” x 11” paper, landscape.
  3. Use white, non-glossy paper; do not laminate.
  4. Any art medium may be used (e.g., colored pencils, crayons, paint), computer graphics will not be accepted. Artwork must be hand-drawn by the student.
  5. Artwork must be flat (e.g., no glued pieces or glitter) and able to be scanned.
  6. Avoid labeling debris items with any brand names in the artwork.
  7. A description of no more than 75 words must accompany the artwork (space provided on the entry form).
  8. Label each mail entry on the back in pencil (marker bleeds through the artwork) with the student’s name, age, and grade, along with the teacher’s name, school name, address, and telephone number.
  9. If submitting your entry electronically, accepted file types are: JPEG, PNG, or TIFF. Make sure your files are high resolution (scanning is encouraged), not crooked, and easy to see and/or read.

Entry Submission (Contest is now closed)

This year we are accepting entries by mail and electronically. There should be one entry form filled out per student. Please ensure that the entry form is filled out completely and legibly. All entries (entry form + artwork) must be submitted by mail (postmarked) or electronically no later than December 16, 2022.

If you have any questions, please email

Submitting Entries By Mail
Mail your entry (entry form + artwork) to:

Marine Debris Art Contest
NOAA Marine Debris Program
1325 East-West Highway,
SSMC2, Room 3201
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Submitting Entries Electronically
Email your entry (entry form + artwork) to: 

    • Attach the entry form
    • Attach the artwork as a JPEG, PNG, or TIFF 
    • Make sure your artwork is high resolution (scanning is encouraged), not crooked, and are easy to see and/or read
    • Please note: Our email system will not accept emails with attachments larger than 18MB. If you are submitting multiple entries via email, please number them, send them in individual emails, or reach out to confirm we have received all of your entries.

    2022 Art Contest Winners

    Congratulations to our 2022 NOAA Marine Debris Program Art Contest winners! The Marine Debris Program selected 13 pieces of artwork, and they are featured in our 2023 Marine Debris Calendar! Thank you to all the students who participated in this year's contest! We plan to announce the winners of the contest in spring 2023.

    The 2023 Marine Debris Calendar is available for download. We are unable to offer hard copies of the calendar at this time.

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    The 2023 Marine Debris Calendar is now available for download! Learn more about the annual NOAA Marine Debris Art Contest.

    Marine Debris in the Great Lakes Display Cards

    Cover of the Marine Debris in the Great Lakes Display Cards.

    Across the Great Lakes basin, many educators are interested in the topic of marine debris but lack the resources needed to explore this topic with their students. In partnership with the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Center for Great Lakes Literacy, a Great Lakes Sea Grant team made up of Ohio Sea Grant, Wisconsin Sea Grant, and Michigan Sea Grant worked to improve access to critical educational resources for Great Lakes educators through the Trash Trunk: a kit for learning about marine debris. This kit includes lesson and activity materials, as well as these display cards with specific, place-based information about marine debris in the Great Lakes. 

    To learn more about the Trash Trunk, visit the Wisconsin Sea Grant website.

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    Cover of Marine Debris in the Great Lakes Display Cards.
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    Dive into these colorful fact sheets to learn about the types, sources, impacts, and solutions to marine debris throughout the Great Lakes.

    One Cool Earth Zero Waste: How To Start School Waste Sorting Stations




    A waste sorting station is a lineup of cans in the lunch area where students can dispose of their waste.


    The green team stands at the waste sorting station and helps instruct kids on which things go in each can. Some schools start with three cans, but other schools have four, five, or six even. 

    The blue one is for recycling. We can put clean paper, clean plastic, clean metal, and clean glass in here.


    The orange one is for worm compost or vermicompost. Worms love to eat fruit and vegetable scraps.


    The gray one goes to the landfill. This is where we put all ooey gooey stuff: milk cartons and styrofoam trays.


    Some schools also have a green can where they can put all of their food scraps to be composted off-site.


    Other schools also have a bucket with a colander on the top where they can pour the liquid that they didn't drink. Some schools even have a barter bin where the kids can leave the cafeteria foods they didn't eat so hungrier kids can eat them. Keep in mind that if it's out for too long that it needs to be thrown away.


    Check with your city's waste hauler to find out what can go in your blue can. Your staff can help out with that. Also remember to thank your custodians and yard duty for being so helpful in this waste sorting process. They are seriously environmental superheroes as well!

    Plastic Pollution and You: An Interdisciplinary Curriculum to Explore Our Role in Plastic Pollution

    Cover of Plastic Pollution and You: An Interdisciplinary Curriculum to Explore Our Role in Plastic Pollution.

    “Plastic Pollution and You,” published by New York Sea Grant, is a 15-lesson curriculum focused on marine debris sources, impacts, and solutions. These hands-on lessons and activities help students learn the different types of plastics, their impact on marine and freshwater ecosystems, and about ways to address and prevent plastic pollution. Interdisciplinary elements of this curriculum include policy research, environmental justice, and effective outreach and communication strategies. The curriculum is designed to be appropriate for multiple grade levels, meet New York State and Next Generation Science Standards, and align with several regional environmental action plans. Educators from New York who are interested in getting involved in future revisions to the curriculum can connect with New York Sea Grant through their website.

    To learn more about “Plastic Pollution and You,” including an instructional webinar reviewing the units and lessons, visit the New York Sea Grant website.

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    Cover of Plastic Pollution and You.
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    This hands-on, standards-aligned curriculum helps students to think about types, sources, and impacts of plastic debris, as well as potential solutions.

    Earth Genius Lesson Plans

    Cover of the Earth Genius Lesson Pollution Solutions.

    One Cool Earth, in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program and Bay Watershed Education and Training program, created a series of standards-aligned lesson plans exploring issues related to marine debris and environmental stewardship. Each of these lessons focus on experiential, project-based learning to support student engagement and action. 

    Pollution Solutions

    In this lesson students pose questions about the nature of the litter found around their school, make predictions, do a campus cleanup to cultivate environmental stewardship, and then brainstorm solutions to prevent litter.
    DownloadK-2nd (docx) | 3rd-6th (docx)


    In this lesson students will learn about which types of matter can decompose by conducting a simple experiment. Students will observe changes over time due to decomposition, notice patterns and classify materials based on their ability to decompose, and explain how matter changes through decomposition.
    Download: K-2nd (docx) | 3rd-6th (docx)

    Waste Audit

    In this lesson, students will learn about the impact of school waste on the environment. They will use math to measure some/all of the waste produced in one day on campus, and brainstorm ways to reduce that waste. Additionally, teachers can expand on this lesson by encouraging students to take on leadership roles to organize a campus-wide waste audit to collect more data, and design and implement solutions for reducing waste on campus. Download: 3rd-6th (docx)

    The full collection includes 24 lesson plans focused on Next Generation Science Standards, all of which are available on the One Cool Earth website. The lessons are grouped in “Phenomenal Series” to link related lessons. Lessons can be taught stand-alone, but may have more significance if taught in the suggested order, within a given phenomenal series. Each of these lessons are also available in a virtual format

    You can learn more about One Cool Earth at their website. Additionally, explore their previously funded work with the NOAA Marine Debris Program: 

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    Earth Genius Lesson Plans.
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    Engage students in marine debris prevention with standards-aligned, project-based lessons from One Cool Earth.

    Trash Shouldn’t Splash Toolkit

    Cover of the Trash Shouldn’t Splash Toolkit.

    This toolkit, created by Falmouth Water Stewards/Skip the Straw and Sea Education Association (SEA) with funding provided by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, provides strategies, best practices, and examples of successful, student-driven campaigns to reduce single-use plastics in communities. The materials in this toolkit include educational information about marine debris types, sources, and prevention; suggestions for creating logos and other communication materials; tips and scripts for interacting with restaurants; and templates for letters to community members and organizations to promote student efforts. 

    These resources were inspired by a 2015 “Skip the Straw” campaign in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Five middle school students, in partnership with Falmouth Water Stewards, developed and used communication tools that reached various audiences for the campaign, such as surveys and scorecards for restaurant owners and managers. This campaign, paired with ocean research conducted by undergraduate students studying with SEA Semester, created the Trash Shouldn’t Splash partnership. Ten restaurants in Woods Hole posted signage supporting the “Trash Shouldn't Splash” single-use plastic reduction message, some of which are featured in the toolkit. Additional resources and example materials are available on the Trash Shouldn’t Splash website

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    Trash Shouldn't Splash logo.
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    This toolkit provides strategies, best practices, and examples of successful, student-driven campaigns to reduce single-use plastics.

    Marine Debris Prevention Best Practices Manual

    Cover of the One Cool Earth Marine Debris Prevention Manual.

    Created by One Cool Earth with funding provided by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, this Marine Debris Prevention Best Practices Manual is a comprehensive guide to help establish lasting change on school campuses. It covers tips and tricks for engaging students in assessing school waste, bringing student leaders together into “Green Teams,” and supporting the entire school community with marine debris prevention. Learn creative ways to minimize waste in the classroom, in the cafeteria, in school gardens, and on the playground. These strategies are accompanied by case studies, standards-aligned lesson plans, videos, and other resources. 

    You can learn more about this project, as well as find additional lesson plans and other resources for formal and informal educators on One Cool Earth’s Educator Resources page.

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    Cover of the Marine Debris Prevention Best Practices Manual.
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    This Marine Debris Prevention Best Practices Manual is a comprehensive guide to help establish lasting change on school campuses.

    Marine Debris Interruptions

    First page of the Marine Debris Interruptions: Yellow Rope on the Beach lesson.

    Have you ever found litter on the beach and wondered what it is and where it came from? In this project, organized by Oregon Sea Grant and supported through funding by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, students focus on one particular item of marine debris and try to learn about the item's story. What was the item originally used for? How does it move through its life cycle of manufacture, transportation, use, and disposal? How did this item end up abandoned or discarded in the marine environment?

    Once students know the object's story, they identify solutions that would prevent this particular type of marine debris from ending up on the beach, and share their ideas with decision makers. The goal is to interrupt the processes that lead to this type of marine debris. These three 5E (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate) lessons are centered around the anchoring phenomena of yellow rope fragments, plastic shotgun wads, or balloons on the beach.

    On the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, you can find additional resources for teaching these unique problem-based lessons, including a field guide for marine debris items of concern and a blank lesson template to create similar lessons for other marine debris objects.

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    A bag of yellow rope pieces.
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    Students explore debris types of concern and identify ways to interrupt their escape into the environment with these lessons from Oregon Sea Grant.

    Prince George’s County Clean and Beautiful Activity Books

    Cover of Prince George’s County Clean and Beautiful activity book.

    These colorful, engaging activity books were created by Prince George’s County, Maryland, with funding from the NOAA Marine Debris Program. Follow along as Spencer the Sprout learns about how litter becomes marine debris and ways to make a difference in your community. Each book features content and activities ideal for a different age group, from kindergarten through high school. 

    • Volume 1: Kindergarten-Grade 2 - Meet Spencer and learn about how litter impacts our favorite places and how we can make a difference.
    • Volume 2: Grades 3-5 - Support Spencer on a mission to learn all about watersheds, how litter can get from our streets into the ocean, and how we can prevent it.  
    • Volume 3: Grades 6-8 - Explore with Spencer the many impacts of debris, everyday activities that can lead to it, and ways that individuals and communities can commit to taking care of the environment.
    • Volume 4: Grades 9-12 - Spencer is trapped! Kim, Renaldo, and Shawn are Prince George’s County’s only hope to save the environment from marine debris and free Spencer.

    Dive into the world of Spencer the Sprout and learn more about the work of Prince George’s County at the Spencer the Sprout website.

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    Cover of Prince George’s County Clean and Beautiful activity book.
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    Kids of all ages can learn about marine debris with these colorful, character-focused activity books from Prince George’s County, Maryland.


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