Marine Litter: “Searching for the usual suspects …at my beach”

School: none
Teacher: NUCLIO
No of students participated: Teacher's choice
Subject domain: Biology, Environmental Education, Geography and Earth Science
Contact info

Students will investigate a predetermined area of their local beach and collect all the litter they can find within the area. After this, students will separate the different types of waste, identify them and analyse what is the predominant type of waste. After deciding what is the main agent of marine waste, students will investigate its origin and try to come up with sollutions to reduce its release in the beach.


1: Brainstorning about source, types and causes of marine litter

Students will investigate about marine pollution, causes and consequences and should answer to questions like:

How does marine pollution affect human health and the quality of marine ecosystems?

Which is the origin of marine litter? How does it end up in the sea?

What kind of waste appears in the sea?

How do microplastics and microbeads appear in the sea and coastal areas?

How long does marine litter last in the sea?

Why have green alternatives to fossil-based plastics made a splash in recent years?


2. Investigation proposal to address such questions


For this activity, students will use a tool for collecting data on marine litter. This tool is designed to generate data on marine litter according to a standardized methodology.

The Marine Litter Monitoring Program on beaches is one of the actions taken to respond to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and to the commitments made by Portugal under the OSPAR Convention (The North-East Atlantic Environment Strategy).

Students will organize and participate in an awareness campaign about marine litter. They have to collect, register and monitor the litter found on the beach, identify the most frequent residues on the beach, as well as their origins, impacts and reflect about ways to reduce them.

Coastal waste / rubbish assessment campaigns are the primary monitoring tool of the litter loads in the marine environment and have been used worldwide to quantify and classify pollution by marine litter.


Material needed: waste collection bags, gloves, tweezers, sieves and growers.


1-beach cleaning and waste collection

a) Identification of permanent reference points to ensure that the same area will be monitored.

b) The sampling unit is a fixed section of beach covering the whole area between the water's edge and the bottom of the beach (as exemplified in the image above).

The guideline developed by OSPAR establishes two sampling units:

 - 100 m: for identification of all marine waste items (collecting the waste in the intertidal zone, that is between tides). Students should ensure the activity is performed during low tide;

 - 1 km: to identify objects in general greater than 50 cm (students should identify, weigh and classify the type of waste collected)

c) Beaches can be monitored four times a year:

• Winter (mid-December- mid-January)

• Spring (April)

• Summer (mid-June-mid-July)

• Autumn (mid-September-mid-October)

Ideally, the chosen beach should be monitored on the same day of each year.


2. Gathering, counting and categorizing 

After the beach cleaning, students will gather, count and divide the waste collected into categories, following OSPAR procedures. The results of the collecting data should be represented using graphics and histographies.

The graphics will be used to deepen the knowledge about the most frequent waste collected and its origin. The marine waste should be evaluated considering the following variables: amount of waste collected in kg; type of waste collected.

The activity should provide objective conclusions about the causes of marine pollution identified in the research.

You can see a more specific guideline document with a list of categories for the marine waste for this research here

You can find the original OSPAR guidelines and ID table here


3. Collaborating with students from other locations: investigating globaly


Globallab is a platform where students can introduce data they have collected, by answering to a form, and then compare it with the same data collected by students all over the world. A specific form was created for this activity, contemplating the OSPAR categorires of marine waste.

The project can be found here:

In this project, students follow the OSPAR protocol to collect marine waste and separate it into categories to then insert their discoveries related to the main type of waste they have found in the beach. Within the section "findings" students will discover the organized data that includes all the answers from all participating students. Students can then copy the tables, maps, etc. from the findings to insert them in their OSOS project and can also use them to properly analyse their data and retrieve conclusions.

In order to introduce their data, students first need to register on the platform. When doing this, please consider the following:

- Students should use a code name

- Students shouldn't add any picture of themselves in the platform

- If necessary, students can print the protocol and keep it at all times.

- Students shouuld go to the “discussion” area to communicate with the other students about their results



Keeping record

During the process, students should record all the details of their research and make the photographic record and short videos of the activity.

Students should keep a constant record of their work here in their OSOS project, including pictures of the whole process and print screens of their most relevant graphics, maps, etc.