A sample of trash that washed up in South Padre Island, Texas. (Source: NRDC)
Students will predict how long it takes different debris to breakdown in nature. They will discuss what these timespans mean for debris that finds its way into our waterways and identify why tracking marine debris is important.
Students will identify the types of debris that are prevelant in marine debris.
Activity: Marine Debris Timeline* , laminated images of each item (see answers), a physical representation of each item, and the Answers
Reference Material: "What is Marine Debris?"
Worksheet: The What, Where, and Why of Marine Debris
* This can be a digital timeline that can be manipulated on a Smartboard or Chromebooks, mini-timelines given to partners, or a large timeline that is completed in a group.
Ask students to help generate a list of things they threw in the garbage over the last 24 hours. Create a list of their answers on the board. Ask them what they think happened to a specific item after it was thrown away. Ask students to choose an item from the list and discuss its possible fate with a neighbor.
Explain that much of what we throw away does not find its way to the city or county landfill. Items that can be recycled often end up as litter that is carried via stormwater and wind to our waterways. Some litter is intentionally dumped from cruise ships and other sources. All this litter becomes marine debris. Explain that they are going to think critically about the life cycles of this debris by using an interactive timeline.
Share the Marine Debris Timeline, the real-world items (these can be used to think critically about each item - what is it made of? how thick is it? etc), and the laminated images of each item. Ask students to pair-up to determine their predictions of how long each item takes to break-up in the environment. Have them place the laminated image of each item next to the amount of time they predict it takes to breakdown. After the specified time, ask teams to share their predictions. What did they get right? What surprised them? What do they notice about items that breakdown quickly? (they are made of organic materials) What are most items made of that take hundreds to thousands of years? (plastic) Remind them that every plastic item every made still exists: diapers, bottles, straws, etc.
Pair up and explore "What is Marine Debris?". Have students work together to explore this resource. Ask them to refer back to the list of items they threw away in the past 24 hours. Are those items represented in the list of types of marine debris? How does litter become marine debris? What are the primary sources of marine debris?
Complete The What, Where, and Why of Marine Debris worksheet. Give students access to "What is Marine Debris?".
Assessment: Completed worksheets and observation during discussions.