By: Melissa Williams, Guest Blogger and Executive Director of the Feiro Marine Life Center
Education & Action: A One-Two Punch reaches elementary students and teachers over 250 miles of coastline along Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. With funding from a NOAA Marine Debris Program Prevention through Education and Outreach grant, the program focuses on educating students about the issue of marine debris and inspiring them to get involved. To do so, it is tailored to address the different experiences of students living along the Strait and along the coast.
For fourth graders living along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, macro marine debris (larger debris) on their beaches is not a highly visible issue. However, the larger population size of cities and towns in this region can create a bigger marine debris issue if students don’t realize its true sources and how important their personal choices can be. For those students, the program brings them from their classroom to the Port Angeles waterfront. There, educators and volunteers from the Feiro Marine Life Center and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary wait to help students participate in field investigations that work to raise awareness of what qualifies as marine debris, help students understand how marine debris impacts ocean wildlife, and inspire them to help the situation by participating in cleanup efforts coordinated by Washington CoastSavers. Students experience first-hand how things like microbeads can impact the tiniest ocean inhabitants and see how plastic pieces can reach sea birds through the movement of ocean currents. Additionally, educators from the Strait coast worked this summer to add educational materials to the program, such as adding writing prompts to field notebooks and identifying grade-appropriate marine debris-themed articles that would address common core language arts standards.
For fourth and fifth grade students living along the Pacific coast, macro debris is a more obvious presence, but it is not always seen as a community priority to remove it or to prevent more debris from accumulating. For these students, the program buses them to a local beach. There, educators engage them in learning about local intertidal inhabitants and in practicing using the NOAA marine debris shoreline survey field guide in an effort to understand how different types of materials can be taken in by these creatures. This past summer, this project was also able to offer a teacher workshop on different ways educators could include marine debris removal and data collection into their curriculum. As a result, teachers in the Quileute Tribal School and Neah Bay Elementary, located immediately next to beaches that are part of the Quileute and Makah Nations, were inspired to add regular beach cleanups during the school year.
Educational tools, like the dissection of albatross boluses (stomach contents) to observe ingested plastic and the first ever published video of plankton consuming microplastics, work to not only educate students, but inspire action. Getting students out to their local beaches for marine debris assessments is also meant to drive them and their families to participate in marine debris removal efforts coordinated by Washington CoastSavers, and to entice them to properly dispose of their trash, pick up garbage when they see it, and to think critically about what packaging they choose to purchase.
The Education & Action: A One-Two Punch project is looking forward to a successful school year, and a lot of environmental stewardship!