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VIMS partners with JASON Learning for Beyond the Plastic Bottle Challenge

William & Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science has partnered with JASON Learning for the Beyond the Plastic Bottle Challenge, an educational activity in which teams of students create a sustainable plan that reduces the debris associated with one source of microplastic pollution in their community.

Most plastic trash begins its life on land. (Photo by D. Malmquist/VIMS)The challenge is inspired by research being done at VIMS and highlights the work of the Challenge STEM role model, Meredith Evans Seeley, a Ph.D. candidate and Freeman Family Fellow in William & Mary's School of Marine Science. STEM — short for science, technology, engineering and math — is a curriculum based on an applied approach to educating students in these four disciplines.

JASON is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in 1989 by Titanic discoverer Robert D. Ballard. It provides curriculum and learning experiences in STEM for K-12 students and high-quality professional development for teachers. JASON has been used successfully in a wide variety of formal and informal education environments.

“Most people are aware of the damage that plastic does to the environment," says Seeley. "Those same people are probably aware of the dangers that water bottles and plastic straws pose to nature. But something that a lot of people don’t think about are microplastics: tiny pieces of plastic that either break down from or break off of larger pieces, which then pollute filtration systems and eventually find their way into our food supply when fish and other animals accidentally eat them."

The white specks in the gut of this larval brine shrimp are microplastic particles from the breakdown of polyurethane foam. (Photo by Hamish Small/VIMS)The challenge will involve grade 6-12 students in their communities through creative, science-informed problem solving. This ties in directly with the principles of JASON Learning and the formal and informal curriculum materials developed by marine educators at VIMS.

"Jason is honored to partner with VIMS,” says President Eleanor Smalley. “We are looking forward to seeing the real-world solutions that students develop, lending to the mission of micro-plastic reduction. We’re also thrilled to have such a talented role model spearheading the competition and offering her knowledge on the subject."

A variety of plastic items recovered from the Gloucester Point shoreline during an annual coastal clean-up organized by VIMS' Green Team. (Photo by M. Seeley/VIMS)The challenge will be an ongoing campaign, encouraging student participation on a local level throughout the state of Virginia. Both organizations see the benefit of local solutions to problems that exist on a global scale. While there is no grand prize, JASON and VIMS will highlight participants with effective and creative ideas throughout the campaign's lifetime. Students and teachers can share their progress using the hashtag #VIMSPlasticChallenge.

Information on how to participate is available online.