Program educates students about the impacts of marine debris to the coastal ecosystem

About 80 students and teachers from four coastal area schools know a bit more about microplastics and the impact they can have on sea life, thanks to a program launched by Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and funded by the Landings Landlovers Inc.

Marine Educator Dodie Sanders began the Debris Detectives program to help young people better understand how microplastics, tiny fragments of plastic found in water and sediment, as well as marine debris negatively impact the coast.

Educator Dodie Sanders discusses microplastics with a class from St. Andrews School.

Educator Dodie Sanders discusses microplastics with a class from St. Andrews School.

Microplastics are ingested by organisms, such as fish, oysters and crabs, which then become imbedded in their digestive tracts. Little is known about the damaging effects of microplastics on marine life, though studies focused on this topic are being conducted around the world.

The students and teachers participating in the program went on a trawl aboard the R/V Sea Dawg and collected, sorted, identified and counted the organisms they caught, including shrimp, blue crabs and fish. Sanders discussed how microbeads in toothpaste and cosmetic products can end up in waterways and eventually in the stomachs of these marine organisms. They also collected water samples and took those back to the Marine Education Center lab to examine for the presence and abundance of microplastics.

Nick DeProspero, an environmental science teacher at St. Andrew’s School in Savannah, was with his students for the program. Prior to his position at St. Andrew’s, DeProspero worked at the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium as a Sea Grant marine education intern.

St. Andrews' students receive close instruction from teacher Nick DeProspero (right).

St. Andrews’ students receive close instruction from teacher Nick DeProspero (right).e as an education intern at the center, I saw the value in getting kids outside and engaging them in hands-on, interactive activities,” DeProspero said. “It was a great experience, which is why I bring my kids out here. Science is interactive and certainly isn’t best-learned through textbooks and lectures. Getting them out and working as a real scientist, especially right in their backyard, is crucial for them to making a connection between their role as a consumer and the environment.”

Not only does the Debris Detectives program cover subject matter that aligns with the classroom curriculum, it provides scientific sampling experience and teaches how to use scientific equipment to analyze data. This type of real-world application allows for a deeper understanding and awareness of how their daily actions may impact the important and fragile ecosystems along the Georgia coast. It also instills a sense of pride and ownership of these ecosystems, hopefully inspiring them to be environmental stewards of the Georgia coast.

Landings Landlovers Inc. is a nonprofit organization that promotes fellowship through social and cultural activities while working toward the continued improvement of community life at The Landings, a residential community on Skidaway Island, through its philanthropic efforts.

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