Amanda Maxwell

Sep 20th 2018

Environmental Initiative Brings Marine Plastics Pollution Into the Classroom


Successfully reducing marine pollution requires both environmental activism and government regulation to stop land-based trash from ending up in the sea.

For instance, companies like Starbucks and Disney are phasing out single-use drinking straws from their businesses. “Disney estimates that it will reduce their annual plastic footprint by 175 million plastic straws and 13 million stirrers,” said TIME.

Plastics pollution affects oceans all over the world. Even the once pristine Arctic Ocean has microplastics contaminating the food chain and plastic degradation leaching chemicals into the seawater. This October, an environmental initiative called Expedition: Plastic Seas from nonprofit organization EarthEcho International will bring marine plastics pollution into the classroom to inspire a new generation of environmental activism.

Plastic Is Polluting the Ocean

Pollution with marine plastics causes problems large and small. Ocean currents and gyres build visible garbage patches that stretch for miles. As they degrade, explained the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), plastics break down into smaller and smaller particles. Although mostly invisible to us, they still cause problems. CBC reported research showing that shellfish and plankton eat microplastics, mistaking them for food.

Overall, EarthEcho observed that Australia has seen an increase of 14 percent in coastal population between 2001 and 2009, and this rapid growth is affecting the coastal ecosystem. The Plastic Seas initiative focuses on the impact of marine plastics in Port Philip Bay, as well as the impact of rapid population growth in nearby Melbourne on coastal areas.

Educating Teachers About Environmental Initiatives

Awareness will be brought to the classroom through Expedition: Plastic Seas. Australian teachers are invited to explore the effects of plastic pollution on their southwestern coastline. In collaboration with researchers, local activists and other experts, the teachers will develop educational materials to inspire the next generation of innovators, activists and engineers.

According to EarthEcho CEO Philippe Cousteau, Jr., expeditions provide educators with “‘a firsthand opportunity to experience environmental issues and meet people who are developing solutions to solve them.'”

The initiative is sponsored by the Northrop Grumman Foundation. This is the second year that the foundation has worked with EarthEcho. The Northrop Grumman Foundation supports and encourages new STEM students around the world, focusing on programs from preschool to college level. Working closely with educators and outreach programs, such as Expedition: Plastic Seas challenges, new generations of engineers will develop sustainable solutions and environmental initiatives.

Expedition: Plastic Seas

In a weeklong exploration with local researchers, policymakers, and marine and environmental experts, the teachers will discover how plastics affect the bay’s marine environment. As Expedition Fellows, they will take part in on-site activities to tackle the pollution. From this, they create an educational module to take back to students:

  • A video exploring the impact of plastics in the bay
  • An environmental audit of impact
  • An examination of youth-led environmental initiatives
  • Profiles of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professionals active on the issue

In conjunction with live virtual events through the year, this module lets teachers bring the ocean to the classroom. They can engage their students with a firsthand account of the problem and show them how innovation is creating solutions.

Challenging a New Generation in Environmental Activism

The United Nations Environment Assembly highlights marine plastics pollution as an ongoing concern: It’s important to develop solutions and challenge new generations. Immersing young students in the so-called plastic soup of marine pollution through environmental initiatives such as these helps bring the problem closer to home.

Interested in saving the ocean? Check out Northrop Grumman’s career page.