Idea for Use in the Classroom

Henderson Island in the South Pacific was named a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site in 1988. At the time, it was one of the few atolls in the world unspoiled by human activity. In 2017, however, researchers surveying the island’s beaches found the highest concentration of plastic trash ever recorded.

In this infographic, the colored dots show the amount of plastic and other trash collected in one survey plot. What items were most common? What items were the least common? Using the infographic and a world map, point out the pattern of ocean currents. Where does the plastic pollution on Henderson Island come from? How did it get there?

The trash survey was conducted on a beach. But to get to the beach, the trash had to float through the water, which is where coral reef organisms would have encountered it. Ask students to predict what kinds of floating trash might be most harmful to ocean life and why. Would any of the trash be harmless?

Use this encyclopedia article on food webs and the article on coral reef food webs to introduce students to a typical coral reef food web. In small groups, explore the impact of ocean plastics on coral reef species by having students research the impact of “ghost nets” on sea turtles, the ingestion of plastic by Pacific seabirds, and the ingestion of plastic particles by coral polyps. Have each group report their findings to the class. Ask students to predict what might happen if turtles or seabirds become less common in a coral reef ecosystem. What would happen if the corals died off?

Noun

a coral reef or string of coral islands that surrounds a lagoon.

Noun

narrow strip of land that lies along a body of water.

beach pollution
Noun

debris or garbage that has washed ashore from a body of water.

coral reef
Noun

rocky ocean features made up of millions of coral skeletons.

Noun

community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

Noun

all related food chains in an ecosystem. Also called a food cycle.

Noun

all related food chains in an ecosystem. Also called a food cycle.

Noun

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

polyp
Noun

a type of animal with a fixed base, a tubelike body, and tentacles for catching prey.

sea turtle
Noun

one of several endangered species of marine reptile native to tropical and subtropical oceans.