MarineQuest Receives NOAA Grant for new Turtle Trash Collectors Program

UNCW’s MarineQuest has received $262,206 in a matched grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris Program to continue its successful marine debris education programs. The grant will fund Turtle Trash Collectors (2TC), a new project that focuses on sea turtles as a key species to engage elementary students in marine debris prevention. The program launches this December and runs through spring 2021.

In 2015, a NOAA grant helped to support MarineQuest’s first marine debris prevention program called Traveling Through Trash (3T). As part of the 3T program, MarineQuest created a life-size, inflatable right whale “classroom” named Watson. MarineQuest staff traveled the state with Watson during the 2015-16 school year, teaching 10,381 North Carolina students about the effects of marine debris on the environment.

Funding from a follow-up grant provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation enabled MarineQuest to introduce Ghost (net) Busters in 2017. This program, designed to educate middle school students about ghost nets and other harmful marine debris, has reached 15,335 students to date. Program Coordinator Laura Sirak-Schaeffer will continue leading this project through November and then launch the 2TC program in December.

Youth Programs Director Sue Kezios reports that MarineQuest’s efforts to raise awareness of the marine debris problem by engaging young students with Watson the Whale have been very effective. The MarineQuest team is looking forward to implementing their new sea turtle initiative that will include digital badging as a way of rewarding students for engaging in marine debris prevention.

“We are grateful for NOAA’s continued recognition of our efforts in marine debris education and prevention,” she said. “This funding will help us educate 12,000 new students living in coastal North Carolina.”

The Turtle Trash Collectors program will serve coastal counties (including New Hanover, Pender, Onslow, Carteret, and Brunswick) as well as several inland counties in the Cape Fear watershed (Columbus, Bladen, Sampson, and Duplin). Elementary schools in these counties who are interested in learning more about this opportunity or scheduling a program should contact project staff at MarineQuest@uncw.edu and include “Turtle Trash Collectors” in the subject line.