Getting Help

Looking for answers involves more than just combing the beaches for trash. It also involves talking to people in the community. Often, people who live near the beaches know the plastics better than we do. They can help us answer questions as we do beach cleanups together.

Just because there is plastic on the beaches, doesn’t mean that people who live in the area are to blame. Once plastic is in the ocean, it can be moved all over the world by waves and ocean currents. That’s why we also go out with fishers on their boats to find plastics still in the water. We use a homemade net device to snag plastics from the water. The net is dragged alongside the boat as we travel.

Justine traveled to the Arctic to find out more about ocean plastics.

Using the Marine Debris Tracker App, I can record what trash I find and where it is.

With this app and database, anyone in the world who is interested in learning about our plastic pollution research can look up our findings. And, there’s more. This free app can be used by anyone. Even you.

Easy‑to‑use scientific tools like this app are a part of a movement called citizen science. It means that anyone—even someone who isn’t a “scientist”— can go out and collect data, too. So, if you find plastics on one of your beaches or even on your local sidewalks, you can add it to the body of data we are collecting.

By mapping our plastic pollution together across various places, we can come up with a better picture of the problem and, hopefully, some solutions to preventing further pollution in our waterways.

Making a Record

As we make our monthly rounds to the beaches, we are building a record of what we find. But we don’t write everything down in our notebooks. Instead, we use our cell phones to report what we find on an app called Marine Debris Tracker.

All of our data goes into this database. Putting our data in one central place helps us keep track of what we know and helps us to build the plastics profile of each beach. It also allows us to share our data. And this is very important to today’s scientists.

I keep careful records when I’m working in the field.

Even under a microscope, it’s sometimes hard to identify plastic trash and where it came from.

Moving Forward

The plastics problem feels big, and it is.
Some people assume that it’s an unsolvable problem. What they don’t realize is that we have the power to significantly reduce— if not eliminate— this problem.

It means collecting a lot of data, and
it means working together to create and implement solutions.
We can all make a difference. Whether it’s combing the beaches, recording and picking up plastic pollution, or changing our behaviors—like not using single‑use plastics like straws, bags, and containers in our schools and homes—we can together help to make our oceans cleaner.

I don’t mind picking up trash. Not really. Because in doing so, I’m working toward a solution. You can help, too.

Under The Microscope

Live ​​​​​​​Smarter on Our Planet

Reducing human pressure on our planet is important! The National Geographic Society hopes to reduce the amount of plastic entering our rivers by 30 percent by 2030.