Plankton, Plastics and Poo

Science | Ages 14-16

Plankton, Plastics and Poo for GCSE Science introduces students to the pioneering research on the impact of microplastics on the marine ecosystem. There are an estimated 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean's surface waters and these plastic particles could have significant consequences for the marine food web and carbon cycle.

As students follow the same journey as scientists at the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory, they learn about key scientific principles such as food webs, work scientifically by simulating the researchers’ investigations, and are encouraged to use their findings to have a wider impact.

Each of the seven lessons is introduced by a brief from a member of the research team, complemented by a video and concluded with the scientists’ reflections.

While these microplastics now represent a major threat to the health of many marine ecosystems, they are a threat that we can all work to resolve.

Lesson 1: Why should we care about zooplankton?

Students learn the importance of zooplankton as primary consumers in the community and as part of the marine biological pump in the carbon cycle.

Lesson 2: How can humans affect the marine environment?

Students look at human impacts on marine ecosystems, while learning about trophic cascades and bioaccumulation.

Lesson 3: What are microplastics and where do they come from?

Students investigate the amount of microplastics used in everyday personal hygiene products and consider the negative impact on marine life.

Lesson 4: Do zooplankton and microplastics occur together?

Students learn how to apply sampling techniques, using real field data collected by Dr Lewis’s team on a voyage through the Gulf of Maine.

Lesson 5: Do zooplankton eat microplastics? (Experiment set-up)

Students set up a classroom practical to collect primary data. They then process the secondary data collected by Dr Ceri Lewis and her team.

Lesson 6: Do zooplankton eat microplastics? (Conclusion)

Students return to observe the gut contents of the brine shrimp. Students focus on developing their ability to write scientific conclusions.

Lesson 7: How can you make sure your discoveries have an impact?

Having observed that microplastics affect zooplankton feeding, students must consider what changes do they want to see, and who should make them?

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