Project Litter: tracking beach trash
Students sick of seeing litter on Taranaki's local beaches are taking a deeper look at where it's coming from.
Walking along the Taranaki coastline students noticed a lot of litter, prompting them to not only take action but also find out how it ended up on their beaches. This blossomed into Project Litter, an experience for students to learn about science outside of the classroom.
Project Litter aims to gather information on different types of litter, mainly focusing on marine litter found on beaches. They want to know the story behind this litter - where is it from and how did it get there?
One focus of the project came from students finding large amounts of plastic glow sticks on the beaches. After their observations, students went through the scientific process of framing a question, hypothesis and what investigative tools to use. The students made the hypothesis that the glow sticks were not coming from people on the beach, but were landing there from the sea.
After some research, the students started contacting recreational fishers and the commercial fishing industry, as well as MPI and the Federation of Commercial Fishermen. From the organisations' reports, students found that Aotearoa New Zealand fishing fleets use half a million of the glowing fishing sticks per year. Although there is an effort from these groups to collect the glow sticks they use, many of them end up in the ocean and then wash up on the beaches.
The students have also worked with other organisations such as MetOcean Solutions to give further depth to their knowledge. MetOcean Solutions have worked with the data collected by the students to plan animations that can help to demonstrate the migration of plastics in Aotearoa New Zealand’s seas.
As well as aiding their project, the data collected has been shared with other local projects that are focusing on litter, sustainable coastlines and plastics.
Pat Swanson, the science teacher at Highlands Intermediate School in charge of the project, says, “These projects work best when they are not stand alone." The co-operation and collaboration that involves other projects helps the team to share information and expand the other projects.
The students also wish to bring another element into the project - an official rubbish bin in an isolated area of their local beach. This would be another place for locals to put their litter that would also serve as another source for the students to collect data about litter. By auditing the items in the bin, the students may be able to find patterns and answers to questions such as 'does litter change seasonally?'
Project Litter is set to officially wrap up in 2019, however, the experience will continue to have an impact on the students.
Pat says that the students have gained “confidence and ability to go through the scientific process of identifying a problem, coming up with a hypothesis and finding a way to solve the real-life problem”.
Students have also had opportunities to put the scientific process into action, work with large organisations and see science learning in a context outside of the classroom.
"The ability to have the students working as advocates for the environment, and on a problem they identified themselves, is very powerful. It can show them how they can influence a wide range of people in the community," Pat says.
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About the project
Project Litter is run by the Highlands Intermediate School marine studies group, with support from the Taranaki Participatory Science Platform.
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