Description: This group activity is inspired by an Arctic researcher who studies the distribution and toxicity of marine plastics, now found in oceans around the world. It connects sources of local littering to widespread plastic pollution carried to the Arctic through studying how materials from local watersheds enter into global ocean circulation, causing damage to vital ecosystems along the way.
Purpose: The purpose of this lesson is to find personal meaning to plastic pollution by collecting samples from our local waterways and analysing them. Later we will connect this activity to polar researchers sampling sediment and finding plastic in the polar ocean in Svalbard, Norway.
Authors: Regina Brinker ([email protected]) Neelu Singh ([email protected]), Katie Lodes, Anne Schoeffler, Valeria Tacca.
Date: February 2023
Educational Resources developed by PEI are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Please give credit to Polar Educators International when using resources.
I live in Longyearbyen, the only major settlement on the remote Arctic island of Svalbard, Norway, where I investigate marine Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the polar ocean. My research team travels by ship to collect sediment samples from the ocean, and I analyse the plastics we find to understand where they come from and the impact they have on living creatures and the environment.Read More
Svalbard is growing in importance as a summer tourist hub. Located above the Arctic Circle, in summer the sun never sets, and in winter we live in 24 hours of darkness. Many polar researchers also work here, but otherwise the island is shared only with polar bears, seals, reindeer and Arctic birds.
I studied Marine Geochemistry at Mangalore University and then at the National Center for Polar and Ocean Research in India. My journey in the field of polar research began in 2008, when I got the opportunity to participate in the Indian Antarctic Expedition. This was the first time I got the chance to be in Antarctica and to feel personally how pristine and divine the Polar Regions are. The immaculate environment gave a gleam to my dream – to work in Polar Regions.
After completing my doctoral degree, I travelled around 7,530 miles from a tropical country to Svalbard, which is a land of midnight sun. I have spent seven years working in the field of environmental chemistry in polar regions. I now have extensive expertise in the study of Trace Metals and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the polar regions.
My research experience and expertise has inspired a deep interest in the connections between Persistent Organic Pollutants, plastics and global climate issues related to environmental pollutants. I am passionate about communicating science and hope that these hands-on activities I have co-developed with educators will help everyone to understand how plastic pollution in their own homeland can end up in the Arctic ocean, due to marine transportation.
Neelu’s story: From India to the land of the midnight sun
Stimulate dialogue and discussion by
With community groupsDiscuss key points from the scientific paper ‘Plastic Pollution in the Arctic’ (2022)
Tip: Start by reading the end “Summary and future perspectives” together. Divide into smaller groups to consider the different sections of this Environmental Science paper.
With children ages 10+Watch the animation in A Message in a Bottle From the North Pole – How Plastic Pollutes the Arctic Ocean as a stimulus for discussion.
The resources and activities will help everyone understand how plastic pollution in your own homeland can travel through creeks and rivers and end up in the Arctic ocean as far away as the island of Svalbard, and why we need polar research to understand what kind of problems this can create for people, wildlife and the global climate.
The purpose of this lesson is to find personal meaning to plastic pollution by collecting samples from our local waterways and analysing them. Later we will connect this activity to polar researchers sampling sediment and finding plastic in the polar ocean in Svalbard, Norway.
Work gloves for each person Buckets (1 bucket per team)Trash grabber (1 per team)Clipboards (1 per team)Pencils (1 per team)Data sheets (1 per team)Large tarpaulinRecycling bags to use to dispose of collected itemsHand sanitizerFirst aid kitMap of area where river is based
Tip: Using hard-wearing reusable work gloves reduces plastic waste.
Before the field trip:
Tip: Check there is shelter nearby and a strong phone signal.
Tip: Choose an area for sorting and recording samples that is visible and easily accessible.
Tip: There are five parts to this activity, which could be run as a one-day activity, split into a field trip and positive action plan, or separated and developed across several different days.
Before the field trip
Prepare an introduction to the flow of plastics from local environments to the Ocean. Participants should be given background information about the ubiquitous presence of plastics in ecosystems, including places like Svalbard in the Arctic. Participants should also be aware of the connection between plastic litter, especially litter along riparian areas and waterways, and the presence of plastic in oceans.
Part 1 – Data collection in the field
Tip: Ask teams to repeat the instructions before sending them off to start collecting.
Tip: Distribute materials just before the activity is about to start, to minimize distractions for participants.
Part 2 – Data analysis, discussion, proposals
Part 3 – Data review
Part 4 – Connecting to the Arctic
How does plastic move through the watershed and into oceans?
The group may work with local agencies to plan and participate in a community-wide litter clean-up event. International Coastal Cleanup Day is held annually on the third Saturday of September. Events may be held along any watershed feature. World Ocean Day takes place every June 8th.
Develop your skills in Social Geography and political studies by working with local agencies to plan and participate in a community-wide litter clean-up event.
Study Polar Science and the Cryosphere at the NATIONAL CENTRE FOR POLAR AND OCEAN RESEARCH, Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India
Conduct Polar Research at the Norwegian Polar Institute on the island of Svalbard
Plastic in a bottle Arctic Council
The goal is to see how plastic potentially makes its way from the North Sea and the Baltic Sea into Arctic waters – and to raise awareness about the issue of marine plastic pollution.
Debris Tracker is designed to help citizen scientists like you make a difference by contributing data on plastic pollution in your community.” (Directions for use are included on the homepage).
Litterati ”Empowering people to create a cleaner planet by turning information into actionable insight”.
Coastal Cleanup “Join a global movement to keep beaches, waterways and the ocean trash free. Head out to your favourite beach and use the app to easily record each item of trash you collect.”
Microplastics in the realm of Svalbard: current knowledge and future perspectives, Neelu Singh et al (2020) SESS Report 2020 – The State of Environmental Science in Svalbard
Our Planet is Choking on Plastic “While plastic has many valuable uses, we have become addicted to single-use plastic products – with severe environmental, social, economic and health consequences” United Nations Environment Programme
A Guide to Plastics in the Ocean NOAA (US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
Plastic Pollution in the Arctic Bergmann, M., Collard, F., Fabres, J. et al. (2022) Nat Rev Earth Environ 3, pp.323–337.
Microplastics National Geographic
Discovery and quantification of plastic particle pollution in human blood Heather A. Leslie, et al. (2022) Environment International, Vol. 163 p.107400 (Plastics and Human Health).
A Message in a Bottle From the North Pole – How Plastic Pollutes the Arctic Ocean Frontiers for Young Minds
Follow the Friendly Floatees National Geographic – Ocean Circulation Lesson
Moby-Duck: When 28,800 Bath Toys Are Lost At Sea National Public Radio USA, 32 minute podcast story
Follow a plastic bottle from Chengdu, China to a remote island in the Pacific Ocean An online, interactive resource follows a plastic bottle from Chengdu, China to a remote island in the Pacific Ocean.
Where Are Those Microplastics Coming From and Going? Polar Data Stories – The Polar Literacy Project, Formerly Polar Interdisciplinary Coordinated Education (Polar-ICE). It is divided into 8 lessons, each lesson features a cool dataset, and guides students towards making observations and analyzing the data to discover what’s happening in the Polar oceans.
End Plastic Pollution “The new UNEA Resolution, ‘End Plastic Pollution: Towards a legally binding instrument’, establishes an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee that will develop the specific content of the new plastic pollution treaty with the aim of completing its work by the end of 2024” The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)