Marine Debris Prevention through Science Literacy
Students picking up debris from a beach.
Students participate in Nature's Academy's hands-on educational program. (Photo Credit: Nature's Academy)

The NOAA Marine Debris Program is partnering with Nature’s Academy to engage fifth grade students in Manatee County, Florida in a hands-on educational program that increases knowledge and fosters 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, is addressing 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 is reaching 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 are being provided with training on marine debris curricula, which they can then incorporate into their formal classroom instruction. Once this subject has been introduced to classrooms, the teachers and their students participate 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 includes citizen science data collection of water quality and marine debris information. The water quality data collected by the students is inputted into the Nature’s Academy Citizen Science Database, while the marine debris data is entered into the Marine Debris Tracker app. While on Anna Maria Island, students also actively engage in reducing, reusing, and recycling materials that would otherwise end up in the trash, and receive their own reusable water bottle to reinforce the “reuse” mentality. Following the field trip, the students participate in litter cleanups and develop final projects that apply concepts they learned from their experience. Throughout this process, Nature’s Academy is keeping 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.

For more information on this project, check out the Marine Debris Clearinghouse.