Lucky Year 7 and 8 students from five Victorian schools took a trip to the Antarctic to learn firsthand about the world’s pollution problem. And they managed to do it without leaving a single carbon footprint.
In fact, they didn’t even get on a plane. The Antarctic Journey is a virtual experience of the world’s most extreme continent. It’s one of five experiences offered by Phillip Island Nature Parks and is located next to the Penguin Parade.
The visit was part of a hands-on project to help students see the link between litter and marine debris, and – hopefully – to inspire them to act.
“We’re so lucky to have the penguin parade here in Victoria,” said Kim Dunstan, the Education Co-ordinator at Phillip Island Nature Parks. “But our rangers see every day how litter threatens our wildlife. As the Little Penguins return home at sunset, their tiny legs are sometimes bound or tangled in fishing wire or plastic bags.
“This problem with marine debris extends far beyond our island. We need to change our ways if we want to reduce marine debris and protect our natural environment for years to come. And we see students as the key to changing behaviour to change our future.
“We wanted to get kids out of the classroom and open their eyes to the damage that is happening right now. But we didn’t want to tell them what to do – we wanted to put them in charge. If they were more aware of litter, marine debris and the widespread pollution in the world’s ocean, would they be motivated to act?”
After talking to students about these litter issues, park rangers helped students collect data through school waste audits, observation surveys and marine debris surveys on Phillip Island beaches. Students also visited wildlife in their natural environment to see how they were affected by debris. Students then looked at ways to reduce litter in their schools and community, setting out activities and milestones in a litter reduction action plan.
“After that we just watched the magic unfold,” said Kim. “It was like winding up and releasing a clockwork toy. Students set to work – new bins, nude food, awareness posters, getting rid of straws in the canteen, making boomerang bags to replace single-use plastic bags.”
Rangers and students celebrated their successes at school assemblies and organised presentations.
“Students have built ongoing relationships with rangers, organisations and community groups. It’s just the start really. They have loads more activities planned.”
Litter is an ongoing problem in schools and it’s not easy to get students involved. Successfully engaging students relied on getting them to take personal ownership and writing meaningful and achievable action plans.
“Developing peer awareness is a great way to change behaviour towards litter,” said Kim. “The student voice turned out to be a powerful tool in the fight to change attitudes and behaviour towards litter for the future.”
Before and after surveys showed that students understood much more about marine debris and ways to reduce litter. School litter audits showed less litter in schoolyards and an overall reduction in the amount of litter.
Posters in litter hotspots about the negative impacts of littering also led to less litter in those areas.
Turn the Tide was a collaborative effort between Phillip Island Nature Parks rangers, schools and teachers. Some schools knew what they wanted to get out of the project, while others needed a lot of help. “This was hard to manage at times,” said Kim.
A delay to the funding announcement also made it hard to fit everything in. “We couldn’t start the project until April–May which meant we struggled to complete all aspects of the project in six months.”
“Turn the Tide exceeded our expectations,” said Kim. “Students were so engaged, and their projects brought the whole school and community onboard.
“In fact, they show no signs of stopping. We will keep helping these schools to implement their action plans but unfortunately, we don’t have funding to go beyond that. We would certainly use a similar format for future projects though.
“The actions that we take now are so important if we want to protect the penguins and our marine environment for years to come.”
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