Drowning in Plastic

Introduce students to the concept of ocean currents using the MapMaker Interactive “Ocean Surface Currents” layer.  Using the “Drowning in Plastic” infographic, discuss the following questions as a class:

  • How does plastic get into the ocean? What continents/countries send the most plastic into the ocean?
  • Yellow funnels show where rivers dump plastic into the ocean. Is plastic concentrated at the mouths of rivers? Why or why not?
  • In what ocean locations is plastic most concentrated? Why is it concentrated in those places?
  • What parts of the ocean have the least plastic pollution? Why do you think they are less polluted?

Have students sketch and label the five major ocean gyres on the “Drowning in Plastic” map. Use the updated map to discuss the following as a class:

  • What do you notice about the location of major gyres compared to the location of plastic patches?
  • The North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea have high concentrations of plastic even though rivers do not dump much plastic into these waters. How do you explain this?
  • Notice that ocean plastic is found off the coast of Greenland even though no obvious sources of plastic are nearby. Trace the path plastic might take to arrive at this location.
  • Plastic from Scotland has been found on Henderson Island in the North Pacific Ocean. Trace the path it might have taken to get there. Which currents might be responsible for carrying it?

steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.


physical force by which objects attract, or pull toward, each other.

ocean current

continuous, predictable, directional movement of seawater.


an area of ocean that slowly rotates in an enormous circle.


introduction of harmful materials into the environment.




movement of air (from a high pressure zone to a low pressure zone) caused by the uneven heating of the Earth by the sun.