Students with the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Prevention of Youth Violence (BRC) spent an afternoon learning about marine debris with staff from the North Carolina Coastal Federation on May 12.

This lesson is just one of series that federation staff at the Wrightsville Beach office have conducted with these students, who participate in the BRC’s after-school Voyage program. These students have already learned a lot about stormwater and have taken a marsh field trip. Many students who participate in BRC programs live in the Youth Enrichment Zone, which is a historically under-resourced area of Wilmington with high crime rates. BRC has been successful in offering more educational resources to the area, and the federation started expanding its programs with BRC through a grant from the State Farm Youth Advisory Board.

At this lesson, coastal education coordinator Ted Wilgis and an intern at the office had students do a marine debris tree, which helped students figure out what marine debris is exactly by brainstorming words that are similar to “marine” and “debris” — like “ocean trash” or “sea litter.”

Students then tried to guess how long it takes for various pieces of trash to decompose to help better understand how long different types of litter can stay in the ocean and continue to affect marine life. A paper towel holder, for example, takes two weeks to decompose, while an aluminum soda can takes 200 years, a plastic bottle takes 400 years and a monofilament fishing line takes 600 years.

Students finished the lesson by getting to bring out their creative sides by making marine debris bumper stickers. They used words or draw pictures to convey how harmful marine debris is to the environment. AmeriCorps member Nina Quaratella, who was not at this particular lesson but has done similar ones in the past, said the point of the bumper stickers is to show students that even as kids, they do have a voice and the ability to educate others about the harmfulness of marine debris.

On May 30, federation staff will be back with the BRC’s after-school program for a followup lesson on marine debris. They’ll have a final stewardship lesson on June 2 to wrap up all the various coastal issues they’ve learned about — including stormwater runoff, rain gardens and marine debris.

The federation will continue lessons with the after-school program in the fall, and during the summer staff will be working with students who are in BRC’s summer bridge program, which sets up opportunities for service learning for middle school students.

The State Farm Youth Advisory Board awarded 63 grants in 2016, and the federation was one of four organizations in North Carolina to receive one. In total, there were 750 applicants. The board is made up of 30 students who select grant recipients and develop a yearly plan to distribute $5 million to programs focused on youth leadership and service learning.

For more information on the grant or on the federation’s programs with these students, contact Ted Wilgis at 252-393-8185 or