Guest blog by: Laura Sirak-Schaeffer and Sue Kezios, University of North Carolina Wilmington MarineQuest
Many things look different in our world right now: most people are working from home, our favorite restaurants and beaches are closed, and students finished off the school year online.
So, where does that leave Turtle Trash Collectors, a University of North Carolina Wilmington MarineQuest (UNCW) outreach program funded by the NOAA Marine Debris Program? Before the stay-at-home orders, a typical day for us included an early morning meeting at the van, over an hour drive to a school on some days, and sharing our program with class after class to make sure everyone had a hands-on experience with our specially modified plush sea turtles. During the summer, we usually spent our days talking with visitors at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center or the North Carolina Aquarium.
With the importance of social distancing, this in-person, hands-on work is not possible right now. But at UNCW MarineQuest, when life gives us lemons, we make lemonade! We quickly converted our hands-on program to an engaging and interactive virtual experience, live from our homes to yours. During our hour-long, virtual session, viewers:
- Virtually participate in a simulated sea turtle necropsy (animal dissection)
- See how trash in the ocean can impact sea turtles
- Learn how trash can get to the ocean
- AND learn how we can all help stop marine debris!
Even though the platform has changed, our message remains the same: We can all help stop marine debris and keep our sea turtles and oceans safe!
Programming online may have its challenges, but it also has many advantages. We can bring this virtual program to groups in places we could never travel to in-person. We reached groups across the country - and even connected with a fourth grade class in Vienna, Austria. We also showed participants how to sign up for our Turtle Trash Collectors Digital Badging Program, where you can earn badges by collecting trash right in your community. You can sign up to earn your badges by visiting our website.
And since our travel time is much shorter (or nonexistent), we have some extra time in our day to create new activities and resources for you. We have lots of upcycling activities on our Facebook page that you can do by re-using items you have at home. We are conducting weekly “virtual cleanups” at our local beaches using the Marine Debris Tracker app and posting what we find. We also created a new Citizen Science Project to see how litter in our communities has changed due to the virus, and your participation can help us learn how!
We would love for you to sign up to be a Turtle Trash Collector, or join us for a program.
If you are interested in joining us for a program with your family or hosting one for your students, scouts, church group, or other networks, please visit our website or contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.