Teachers from across Florida had their own education session at the Brevard Zoo starting on Friday.

The lesson plan? How to educate their students back home about the impact of plastics on the ocean and other waterways. The instructors were a group from the non-profit EarthEcho International.

What You Need To Know

  • A few dozen teachers met at the Brevard Zoo to learn about plastic impacts on the ocean.

  • The two-day seminar is being hosted by EarthEcho International in partnership with Northrop Grumman.

  • The workshop is part of the ongoing EarthEcho Academy program.

“It’s kind of depressing, but it’s like a view of the real world. It really opens up my eyes,” said Jeffrey Gammon, a first-year teacher at Gotha Middle School in Windermere. 

As someone who’s new to teaching, Gammon said that he knew it was ambitious to already want to learn how to expand his curriculum back in his comprehensive science classroom. But he said that this was important to learn for him as well as his students.

“I grew up along the beach. I’m from Palm Beach and I like connecting my life experiences with my students,” he said. “So, hopefully they get something out of this.” 

He and a few dozen other teachers from as close as Brevard County to other places around the state, including Tampa, Orlando and Miami, kicked off a two-day, hands-on education in the world of plastics on the environment. 

EarthEcho was founded in 2005 by the children of explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. Their mission is to help bring young people into the work of ocean conservation through a combination of direct youth activities as well as by training teachers on the impact of plastics. 

According to the World Wildlife Fund, about 11 million metric tons for plastic end up in the ocean each year, which is roughly a dump truck of plastic each minute.

Friday’s lesson started by allowing the teachers to pick apart what are scientifically known as the bulos from young albatross birds from Hawai’i. They are essentially dried bird vomit that can teach a lot about the contents of the ocean around them.

“They are a really good way to look at the health of the whole ocean ecosystem, without actually having to go out and explore it, which can be cumbersome and expensive,” said Jaclyn Gerakios, the academy and expeditions manager of EarthEcho.

Teachers were shocked and surprised by how much plastic and other waste had been inside the birds. It also provided an important juxtaposition for other animals that cannot vomit the contents of their stomachs and have to live with all the accumulated plastic until they can’t anymore.

Reese Hanifin-Hernandez, a Tampa-based teacher, said this type of experiment, along with another showing how to make the microplastics in bathroom products readily obvious, are good and easily translated lessons for her students. 

“They’re seeing everyday products. These aren’t products that, you know, rich Hollywood stars are using. We’re using them every day and that really makes an impact, especially in teaching,” she said.

The high school group, World Perspective Solutions from Windermere Preparatory School, also came to the seminar on Friday. Students Sophie Jackson, Margarita Guzman, Brandon Doggett, Reilly Hollern and Sofia Marrero. 

The group won first place in EarthEcho’s OurEcho competition in 2021 with their project: Algae Biofiltration. They used a series of clay substrates to increase the population of beneficial algae that would feed on the nutrition source of harmful algae, thus driving down its population.

They tried several different texture patterns to see which one did a better job of fostering the growth of the beneficial algae.

“We then collected the algae off of it, after the end of our tests. We scraped all the algae off and measured the biomass of the algae and then we sent the samples off to Dr. West Bishop with SePro Corporation, who we partnered with,” Doggett said. “And he analyzed the algae and found the species of algae and how much phosphate and nitrate, which is the main source of food they ate. And that gave us a bigger analysis of what we were looking at.”

The students hope that they can partner with other schools in Florida to have them implement their invention to help with algae in other areas.