Connecting Inland Texas Youth to the Ocean

Last week my friend Laura and I attended “Super Science Techno Night” at a local elementary school in College Station, Texas. This event is well attended by local scientists and professionals; many of them graduate students and/or professors at Texas A&M University. Each participant gets a classroom that they get to transform into their own – bringing in hands-on activities and science demonstrations to share with the school children and their families.

When I moved to Texas I was shocked at how few people (adults, undergraduates and children alike) were uneducated about watersheds, recycling, and the issue that is single-use plastics and marine debris.  Having grown up in Southern California, these were topics I had known about as long as I can remember – growing up with a connection to water instilled in me an awe for nature (the ocean, specifically) and a responsibility to help keep it healthy. This outreach event seemed like the perfect opportunity to show these inland Texas kids that they, too, are connected to the ocean. That, even though they are here in College Station, Texas – 2-3 hours from the Gulf of Mexico, that their actions impact the ocean (and all those down stream). They, and their families, can make choices everyday to make their impact a positive once.

Each picture has one way you can help the animal featured in it.

Each picture has one way you can help the animal featured in it.

Since the target audience of this event was children K-5, we wanted to keep it positive. We made a poster-board display with a cut out of Texas with the main rivers and towns labeled on it. The Brazos River (our local river here in Brazos County) that stretches nearly all the way across Texas and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. We attached some flexible tubing to the Brazos River, making a chute, which the students could place small blue marbles in and watch them run down the river into the ocean. They saw that, no matter how far away from the ocean, the marble will end up there. I’d ask, what if that was a piece of trash? Where would it end up? They would tell me, “the ocean!” Then, “do you like to eat trash for dinner, do you think animals do?” Kids, “Ewwww, no, gross!

Blue Marbles Project image from: bluemarbles.org

Blue Marbles Project
image from: bluemarbles.org

At the end of the exercise, the students each had to tell us one thing they could do to help keep the oceans clean – don’t litter, recycle, use reusable bags/water bottles, pick up trash. Once they did they each got their own blue marble (check out the awesome Blue Marbles project at bluemarbles.org) to remind them that they’re connected to the ocean and that they can help keep it healthy!

Parents and children alike were surprised by the direct connection to the ocean. We were happy that the participants were so excited about it and they loved sharing stories with us of the time they’ve spent at the beach/lake/river as a family. My personal favorite story of the night was one kid told me an elaborate story about how his uncle had been stung in the heart by a giant sting ray when they were swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.

I hope to expand on this outreach program, bring it to more schools/organizations as a guest speaker. Outreach, especially about watershed connection and marine debris, is one of my passions as a marine biologist and I hope to do more soon!

Check back soon for an upcoming post about my recent research on marine debris,  how it has changed my life and, hopefully, will change others too.

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