In this case study, Jenny Griffiths, Education Programme Coordinator at The Marine Conservation Society, shares how they faced up to their challenges in engaging young people. This year their beach clean and citizen science project aimed at primary schools, Cool Seas Clean Up, ended up reaching 2110 young people aged 3-11 years around the UK.

Engaging young people with our Beachwatch Beach Clean and Litter survey programme has been an on-going challenge for the Marine Conservation Society (MCS). Central to the programme is the Great British Beach Clean, held to coincide with the International Coastal Clean Up on the 3rd weekend of September each year. This timing far from ideal for schools – not only because of the unreliable weather but largely because it’s the beginning of a new school year. It’s a big ask of teachers to take their new class out to a beach, an environment traditionally seen as fraught with danger.

We knew we had to make beach cleaning more accessible to schools so, with support from Waitrose, MCS piloted a new approach this summer – Cool Seas Clean Up, a brand-new beach clean challenge for schools which was held in May/June when the weather (one hopes!) should be better, curriculum content has largely been covered and schools are looking for enjoyable end of year activities.

More than just a beach clean, Cool Seas Clean Up provided an opportunity for schools to take part in learning outside the classroom and gave young people first-hand experience of the highly topical issues of littering, plastic pollution and the impact our throw-away society has on us all.  By gathering data through the litter survey, they also took part in one of the UK’s largest citizen science programmes.

Each event included an additional activity (a Microplastic Hunt, Sea Shore Safari or Beach Art, depending on the location) designed to help young people connect with each other and the natural environment. Schools were also provided with a suite of resources to support learning, including workshops to run before and after the event, as well as links to a range of online resources.

Cool Seas Clean Up involved 26 events and 2110 young people aged 3-11 years around the UK. During the 36 days the project ran, the young people taking part cleaned and surveyed 175kg of litter from around 3000m of beach. This is an amazing achievement and really shows the contribution young people can have if they are given the opportunity.

Feedback from teachers and pupils has been really positive, with many schools following up the event with a project around their beach clean findings and several committing to taking part in Great British Beach Clean this September.

Each beach event was buzzing with excitement, enjoyment and learning. From children experiencing the beach for the first time, to connecting their learning about plastics in class with what they find on the beach, or the line of children, distracted from the task in hand, giggling as they throw pebbles into the ocean, I have no doubt that many memories were made, and it’s from these memories that connection and consideration grows. As a marine conservation organisation, this connection is vital and enabling young people to make change in their world is core to what we do.

Top Tips for Organisations

  • Think about timing – is your programme running at a time that works for young people? We found that May and June, for example, worked well for primary schools, but would be bad timing for 15-18 year olds as they are taking exams.
  • How does your opportunity allow participants to reflect? Practical beach cleaning can be fun and very useful, but by adding an element of citizen science allows them to think beyond simple practical actions.
  • How can you keep it fun? Creative activities and games are a great way to liven up an activity, especially for younger age groups. Our Microplastic Hunt, Sea Shore Safari and Beach Art activities gave young participants the opportunity for a change of scene within the broader activity, keeping up their interest.