By: Andrea Kealoha
In island communities such as Hawai‘i, the health of our families is bound to the health of our ocean. We depend on the ocean for food, economic health, cultural nourishment, and enjoyment. With the intention to encourage changes in behavior, the NOAA Marine Debris Program (MDP) works closely with a number of schools and organizations that incorporate marine debris concepts into their educational activities.
Hawai‘i’s marine debris team juggled a whirlwind of educational events over the fall semester, with a host of interactive presentations alongside multiple partners. Fourth grade students from Pearl City Highlands and Pohakea Elementary on Oahu visited the Hōkūle‘a, a Polynesian voyaging canoe that recently launched a four-month-long campaign to conduct education and outreach around the Hawaiian Islands. Students learned about the impacts of marine debris on wildlife by dissecting albatross chick boluses collected in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). Boluses are masses of indigestible material that albatross regurgitate prior to leaving the nest. They are typically composed of natural organic materials, such as squid beaks, but may also contain marine debris that the bird mistook for food. Students identified an assortment of debris in the boluses including plastics, fishing line, and even a large piece of rope, showing that marine debris can impact and harm wildlife in even the most remote areas.
The MDP and Coral Reef Ecosystem Division also visited Wai‘alae Elementary School’s 2nd grade class to show students how NOAA combats marine debris in the NWHI. Activities this year included an entanglement relay to demonstrate how an entangled animal might feel and a degradation timeline that shows how long it takes for items to break down in the ocean.
In line with MDP’s interdisciplinary approach to learning, Maui’s Pomaika‘i Elementary incorporates marine debris education using science and technology interpreted through engineering, expressed through art, and based in mathematics – an integrated educational framework known as STEAM. Every year, the entire school visits Waihe‘e Coastal Dunes and Wetlands Refuge. In addition to conducting a cleanup, the students used microscopes to observe plankton and measured pH to understand water chemistry. Marine debris collected during the cleanup is used for an annual “Art of Trash” exhibit in which artwork is constructed entirely by re-used and recyclable materials.
By incorporating marine debris into educational curriculum and working with schools and local organizations to create awareness, we can hopefully change behaviors and attitudes toward littering and create a future generation of career scientists that will assist in the sustainability of our most precious resource – the ocean!