Marine Debris Education in Santa Barbara Propels Ocean Stewardship
Children learn about marine debris at the Santa Barbara museum.
Photo: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center and the NOAA Marine Debris Program partnered up to educate the Santa Barbara community and students on how they can prevent trash from reaching the ocean.

What is the project?

No matter where we live, we are all connected to the ocean through our watersheds. Some watersheds are large, such as the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which stretches over six states and 500 miles. Others are smaller, such as the Mission Creek watershed in California which spans approximately nine miles from the Santa Ynez Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The choices we make every day can make a difference and help prevent marine debris.

To develop ocean stewardship, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History takes a multi-step outreach approach to engage local elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and tourists with hands-on education, classroom presentations, and community outreach at local businesses, hotels, and events.

What does it accomplish?

The overall goal of the project is to educate others about the issue of marine debris and offer insight into ways people can change their behaviors to reduce the impact of trash on the marine environment.

Marine Debris, the Ocean, & Me focuses on teaching about debris that moves through the watershed and into marine environments, with particular attention to litter found around the outflow of Mission Creek Lagoon in Santa Barbara.

Elementary school students begin their Marine Debris, the Ocean, & Me program with a visit to the Sea Center for a field visit. During this program, students investigate conditions at Mission Creek Lagoon, look at debris found onsite, and determine its effect on the overall health of the estuarine and beach environments. Students also study how various types of marine debris move and are transported through the creek, estuarine, and ocean environments. The students participate in a small beach cleanup at East Beach, and the Mission Creek Lagoon, which is at the bottom of the Mission Creek watershed.

High school students enrolled in the Quasars to Sea Stars program at the museum learn about marine debris through classroom instruction and get hands on experience through participating in a beach cleanup. The students apply their knowledge to develop classroom presentations and become teachers for a day on visits to local middle school classrooms.

The last part of the project is face-to-face outreach to educate tourists and Santa Barbara locals at festivals and other events in the community.

Who is involved?

Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center leads the effort in partnership with the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and the NOAA Marine Debris Program as part of NOAA’s Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach grant.

What is something unique about the project?

Marine Debris, the Ocean & Me provides students with the experiences they need to become stewards for their community by empowering them with proactive opportunities to educate others as well as a number of tools used for effectively communicating ocean conservation issues.

The Quasars to Sea Stars educational outreach portion of the project empowers high school students with the opportunity to take ownership over developing curriculum and educating middle-schoolers, as well as the greater community, about marine debris prevention. Through this process, the Quasars create a deepened sense of connection among humans with the marine environment.