Marine debris refers to any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned in the marine environment or Great Lakes. It comes in many forms, and can be sourced from both land-based and ocean-based activities. Items range from haphazardly discarded cigarette butts all the way up to abandoned vessels. Most marine debris items do not biodegrade, and therefore persist in the environment for a long period of time. Because the oceans have no borders, oceanic currents can move debris items far away from their source. In some remote areas of the ocean, marine debris accumulates in areas known as ‘garbage patches.’ Much of the debris in these areas consists of microplastics, which are small pieces of plastic that result from the breakdown of plastics exposed to the sun. Unfortunately, marine debris has many negative impacts on marine organisms and environment. Accidental ingestion of plastics by marine organisms can cause choking or starvation, and potentially lead to death. Entanglement in discarded nets or ropes can cause drowning or strangulation. Even marine habitats can be impacted through smothering by large pieces of marine debris.
Why should YOU teach about marine debris?
We all live in a watershed where everything runs downhill. No matter where you live, the trash that you see on the streets can pass through a storm drain, head to the Chesapeake Bay, and eventually reach the ocean, where it becomes marine debris. The best way to combat marine debris is to share knowledge about where it comes from, how it impacts the environment, and what anyone can do to prevent it.
How can YOU teach about marine debris?
The NOAA Marine Debris Program offers many educational resources to teach students more about the sources, impacts, and solutions to marine debris.
- Understanding Marine Debris: Games and Activities for Kids of All Ages: An assortment of puzzles, brain-teasers and coloring activities help children understand the problem of marine debris while having fun at the same time. Suitable for all ages.
- Turning the Tide on Trash: A Learning Guide on Marine Debris: Originally developed by the Environmental Protection Agency, this set of lesson plans and background information introduces educators, students and researchers to the topic of marine debris. The interdisciplinary education guide is designed to provide maximum flexibility in the classroom: it can be used as a stand-alone teaching tool or to supplement work in other subject areas. Appropriate for Grades 1 through 12.
- Annual “Keep the Sea Free of Debris!” Art Contest: This contest is open to students grades K-8. Winning artwork is featured in the NOAA Marine Debris Program’s annual calendar.
Other marine debris educational resources can be found here.