Clean Up Your Act!

201412 Saphire Coast MDCCombining science and helping the environment with a trip to the beach is a great way to spend a day at school. Year 3 students at Tathra were lucky enough to be part of a program that did just that.

'Marine Debris – Clean Up Your Act' is a new school program run by the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre (SCMDC) as part of a grant received from the IMB Community Foundation. The program was piloted with a year 3 class from Tathra Public School in terms 3 and 4.

As part of the program students adopted a section of their local beach to clean up. Tathra students chose Tathra Beach near the Surf Lifesaving Club. Students spent and hour scouring the beach for every little bit of rubbish and were still cleaning on the walk back to school.

After the clean up students had a class session to count the debris that they found and then enter it into an online database that is run by the Tangaroa Blue Foundation as part of the Australian Marine Debris Initiative. The database was created to enable volunteers and organisations that were running beach clean up events to also collect data on what they were finding and enter it into a national database on marine debris. Since 2004 more than 3.3 million pieces of data have been inputted into the Australian Marine Debris Database.

The item that the students had the most of from the clean up was cigarette butts and small pieces of plastic. SCMDC education officer, Jillian Riethmuller said "There were much more small pieces than the students had originally thought. And they were so pleased that they were able to help clean it up and save it from being eaten by fish or birds."

By collating the data collected by all the students we were able to see what the biggest issue at the local beach was and students could use this to devise ways to reduce marine debris in their area. A guided session with SCMDC allowed the students the chance to come up with ideas and nut out the possible strategies that they could implement within their school and area. Ideas came fast and furious from all the students with some as simple as putting up posters to make people aware of the issue to as big and outrageous as helicopters that run on rubbish instead of fuel. From all the wonderful suggestions students came to the conclusion to trial a few ideas at school such as making putting rubbish in the bin more fun by dressing up the bins and also making signs that show the danger of marine debris and how long it takes to break down. The hope is that signs like this could go in near rubbish prone areas such as wharves and tourist hot spots. The students have already written to council requesting gloves and grabbers for people to be able to hire to help clean up the beach.

Students had a fun time participating in the program, Taia from the class said "It was fun but shocking when we found out how much rubbish there is on the beach and in the ocean". Another student commented "I thought the whole program was really interesting because marine life is really cool and needs protecting".

Jillian Riethmuller was very proud of how the students took on the program and looks forward to running it with more schools in 2015. "Hopefully this will become an ongoing program for the schools, where they will regularly go and clean the section of beach that they're adopting"