NOAA's Response and Restoration Blog

An inside look at the science of cleaning up and fixing the mess of marine pollution

Talkin’ Trash with Our Nation’s Educators

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Program cover for 2011 National Marine Educators Association conference.

Program cover for the 2011 National Marine Educators Association conference.

“Diving with Dragons”
“City Fish and Country Fish”
“Ultimate Squid Dissection”
“Small Fry to Go: Growing a new generation of citizen scientists”
“Ghostbusting in the Chesapeake”

You know you’re going to a conference of educators when you see presentation names like these! These were only a handful of over 200 educational presentations at this year’s National Marine Educators Association (NMEA) conference. This year’s conference was held June 29-July 3 on the gorgeous campus of Northeastern University in Boston.

So much to learn, so little time! Educators from all across the U.S. and even a handful from countries such as Australia and Japan were in attendance, each bringing knowledge and experience in outreach and education. My week was spent trying to download and absorb as much information as I could, coupled with networking with as many people as possible. The wealth of educational programs, resources, tools, and materials out there is staggering and utterly impressive. You could find everything from a toolkit to help you teach about plankton to information on how to use GPS drifters for hands-on oceanography.

Of course, you could also learn about the incredibly fascinating subject of “Plastics and the Patches: Information and Resources on Marine Debris.” My presentation was on the very last day of the conference and right before lunch. I had to wonder how many folks would actually show up. You see, I was one of ten presenters all slated for the same time slot and thus participants had to choose carefully as they could only go and see one of the ten. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with a completely full room!

Pacific Garbage Patch map 2010

Map of the North Pacific Ocean showing major currents and the areas known as “garbage patches.” Credit: NOAA Marine Debris Program.

We have all seen stories in the media about plastic marine debris and areas of our oceans known as the “garbage patches” (areas of the ocean where marine debris tends to concentrate). The myriad of information, sometimes contradictory, has left the public confused. Why haven’t I seen a photo of a patch? Do plastics truly degrade? In an attempt to arm educators with the sound science and the resources and materials to help make their work easier, my presentation provided up-to-date science-based information to help demystify and clarify what is known about plastic marine debris and the patches. I was blown away by not only the level of interest, enthusiasm, and passion for the topic of marine debris, but also the desire for good, solid, science-based information.

Boston at sunset

Boston at sunset. Credit: NOAA Marine Debris Program.

The week flew by and before I knew it, I was headed home. I left with my luggage much heavier than when I arrived, my notebook bursting at the seams with new information, my business card holder overflowing with new contacts. The educators’ passion fueled my passion and renewed my hope and belief that there will be an end to this worldwide problem. To all the educators–thank you and keep rockin’!

–Carey Morishige, NOAA Marine Debris Program

Carey also blogs for the NOAA Marine Debris Program over at

Author: Office of Response and Restoration

The National Ocean Service's Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) provides scientific solutions for marine pollution. A part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), OR&R is a center of expertise in preparing for, evaluating, and responding to threats to coastal environments. These threats could be oil and chemical spills, releases from hazardous waste sites, or marine debris.

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