NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

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Robotics Team Combats Marine Debris Using…Robots!

By: Andrea Kealoha

Innovative solutions are borne through inspiration, teamwork, and an attitude that combines friendly competition with mutual gain. These core values were at play last fall when 15 fun-loving and highly motivated fourth and fifth graders from Kea’au Elementary School on the Big Island won a 3rd place prize for their marine debris solution in a FIRST®LEGO® League (FLL) competition.

The students, part of the elementary school’s LunaTechs robotics team, participated in the 2013 NATURE’S FURY Challenge, where over 200,000 children from over 70 countries were challenged to develop an innovative solution that helps communities prepare, stay safe, or rebuild after a natural disaster.

The team chose to focus on marine debris generated from tsunamis, a natural disaster that Hawaii has experienced in the past. As part of their initial research, the LunaTechs visited the Pacific Tsunami Center in Hilo and the Department of Civil Defense. They also participated in beach cleanups, collecting debris from Waiolena and Waiʻuli Beach Parks. Through these events, the LunaTechs became particularly interested in the threats associated with marine debris carrying invasive species.

The LunaTechs’ goal was to find a creative way to track Japan tsunami marine debris to monitor possible invasive species that could harm the natural habitat in Hawaii.

The first step in their project was to gain an understanding of current detection efforts (e.g. satellite tracking, modeling maps, and at-sea detection) and limitations associated with them (e.g. dispersal of debris makes tracking by satellite harder, debris may be in remote places).

The LunaTechs brainstormed and developed an idea to build an intricate framework of interactive robots, called LunaBots, which communicate with each other from a satellite in space, to flying robots in the atmosphere, to floating robots in the surface ocean, and finally, to aquatic robots submerged within the depths of the ocean. Consistent, collaborative communication between these robots would improve monitoring efforts on debris that poses a potential threat to the environment, humans, and navigation.

In addition, the LunaTechs ran a booth at their community’s first Emergency Preparation Fair. Their booth had informational posters and handouts about invasive species and marine debris, along with an interactive quiz game. The NOAA Marine Debris Program’s Pacific Islands Regional Coordinator, Kyle Koyanagi, assisted the LunaTechs with expertise on marine debris problems and solutions in Hawaii.

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The Marine Debris Program congratulates the LunaTechs for finishing 3rd place in the Robot Performance component, receiving the FLL Core Values Award, and for showing dedication to their community by working toward finding innovative solutions to combat marine debris! Congratulations LunaTechs!


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Learning about ʻōpala!

By: Andrea Kealoha

Yesterday, staff from the NOAA Marine Debris Program  collaborated with the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and the Polynesian Voyaging Society to teach 2nd and 3rd grade Hawaiian immersion students about the negative impacts of marine debris. The students learned about the Monument, one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world, and dissected albatross boluses filled with fishing line and plastics.

It was inspiring to learn that even at such a young age, these children are already participating in beach clean-ups! While we taught the students about marine debris, they taught us the Hawaiian word for trash – ʻōpala!


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Hawaii’s Elementary Students Talk Trash

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.

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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!

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