Hands-On Marine Debris Education in the Gulf of Maine

Students on a beach with bags of collected debris and a student on a boat with a surface water sample.

The Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation and the NOAA Marine Debris Program partnered to implement a multifaceted STEM education program focusing on ocean literacy and marine debris in the Gulf of Maine.

Type of Project: Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach Grant

Region: Northeast

Project Dates: September 2015 - March 2018

Who is involved?
With the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach Grant, the Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation (GOMLF) worked with numerous regional partners— including Cohasset Center for Student Coastal Research, Manchester Essex Green Team and Seaside Sustainability, the Green Harbors Project, and many others— and developed a STEM education program spanning the Gulf of Maine that addresses marine debris types, sources, movement, impacts, and solutions.

What is the project and why is it important?
The Gulf of Maine is a biologically rich and important marine region in the United States’ Northeast. Spanning the coastal areas of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, it also includes the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which provides critical habitat for many marine species that are unfortunately all negatively impacted by marine debris. Through this project, the GOMLF implemented a STEM education program to equip students, teachers, and community leaders with the scientific knowledge and skills required to understand what marine debris is, where it comes from, how it travels in the ocean, and the harm it can cause to our ecosystems.

This two-year, multifaceted project included many different education and outreach activities to reach students, teachers, and residents. This includes beach cleanups and associated data analysis, in which over 800 students, teachers, and local residents are participating to learn about the types, composition, amount, and sources of debris. In addition, workshops for teachers addressed how to build and deploy drifters to teach students about currents in the Gulf of Maine and the way debris moves. A total of 32 drifters were deployed and tracked by teachers and their students. Similarly, 100 students deployed three devices in three watersheds that captured trash in stormwater runoff. This debris was collected and analyzed to discover how marine debris can travel in stormwater runoff. For additional hands-on marine debris education, 50 students conducted surface debris trawling and net sampling to analyze and learned about microplastics in surface water samples. To see how debris like microplastics impact organisms, 80 students participated in workshops to restore and monitor oyster reef habitats.

This hands-on project culminated in a final Youth Summit to share the results and stories from participation in project activities. Using their newly-acquired knowledge, students worked collaboratively to develop measurable and sustainable steps to reduce and prevent marine debris from entering New England waters, and will leave equipped with marine debris local action plans to implement in their own communities.