Monday, June 2, 2014

Marine Debris

This school year my Environmental Science class covered an entire unit on the problem with ocean plastics. We started the unit with plastics chemistry and studied plastics from their fossil fuel source, industrial processing, commercial uses, and finally, improper disposal and journey to various ocean ecosystems. Once in the ocean, these plastics float on the surface, remain suspended in the water column, or sink to the abyss and settle on the ocean floor - never to biodegrade and be used by organisms in any beneficial manner.

We studied marine organisms at each ocean level and how different plastic artifacts might (and do) affect various organisms. For example, sea turtles consume plastic bags mistaken for jellyfish and nesting birds feed plastics to their chicks. Class projects included: creating plans to stop the flow of plastics into the sea at their source, how to collect them once they enter the system and how to educate the public on proper disposal. Below is an example and above students had some fun learning about deep sea creatures and the difficulty exploring the deep sea. This is a topic that should be covered in all science classes as aspects of Chemistry, Physics, Geology, Oceanography, Marine Science, Biology and Environmental Science are discussed.

I proposed a challenge question to my students: How does the human traffic trade in Houston, Texas contribute to the death of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico? Answer: behind brothels and forced labor camps authorities find massive illegal dumps filled with plastic bags, condoms, needles, etc. These wash into the waterways and enter the estuaries/bays and eventually the gulf. Making broad, obscure connections are vital for understanding the delicate nature of how to care for our environment as well as encouraging critical thinking.