Marine Debris Prevention through Science Literacy

Students picking up debris from a beach.

The NOAA Marine Debris Program partnered with Nature’s Academy to engage fifth grade students in Manatee County, Florida in a hands-on educational program that increased knowledge and fostered behavior change to prevent marine debris.

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

Region: Florida & the Caribbean

Project Dates: August 2015 - July 2016

Who is involved?
Nature’s Academy, with the support of a NOAA Marine Debris Program Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach Grant, addressed marine debris environmental impacts and prevention by offering a free, experiential environmental education program to all fifth grade students in the Manatee County School District.

What is the project and why is it important?
Manatee County, Florida is adjacent to two important natural resources: the Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay estuaries and watersheds. Both areas are classified as estuaries of national significance under the EPA’s National Estuary Program, and both are negatively impacted by marine debris. To connect these nearby resources to students and to fill a gap in science literacy, Nature’s Academy reached about 3,600 fifth grade students in Manatee County to provide a unique hands-on learning program to help prevent marine debris. Educational programs that improve science literacy and foster environmental stewardship are essential to ensuring future generations grasp the problem of marine debris and the value of marine debris prevention and resource conservation.

As part of this project, approximately 100 teachers were provided with training on marine debris curricula, which they could then incorporate into their formal classroom instruction. Once this subject was introduced to classrooms, the teachers and their students participated in a field trip to Anna Maria Island to learn about the multitude of ecological connections and vulnerabilities associated with marine debris. A component of the field trip included citizen science data collection of water quality and marine debris information. The water quality data collected by the students was inputted into the Nature’s Academy Citizen Science Database, while the marine debris data was entered into the Marine Debris Tracker app. While on Anna Maria Island, students also actively engaged in reducing, reusing, and recycling materials that would otherwise end up in the trash, and received their own reusable water bottle to reinforce the “reuse” mentality. Following the field trip, the students participated in litter cleanups and developed final projects that applied concepts they learned from their experience. Throughout this process, Nature’s Academy kept track of the students’ knowledge, environmental awareness, and attitude changes by giving student surveys to measure improvements in science literacy and changes in behavior regarding marine debris prevention.