Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund MDKEO Program grade levels: K-5

Mahalo for your interest in this marine debris prevention curriculum! Funding to create and implement this program at 20 elementary schools on Hawaiʻi Island was provided by a 2014 grant award from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, and continuing with the support from donors and Kona Brewers Festival awards. While this program was created for kindergarten to 5th grade learners, we have found it to be most impactful for 3rd to 5th grade students.  More information, curricula and activities are available on the NOAA website.

Lesson 1 – What is Marine Debris?

Time: 60 minutes


Students are introduced to the subject of marine debris, its composition, its impact on marine wildlife, and the land-to-ocean connection in an informative talk story session utilizing visual aids and activities.


  • Define “marine debris”. Discuss ways marine debris enters the ocean by learning the connection between land and sea (ahupuaʻa).
  • Understand the difference between natural debris (biodegradable) and man-made (photodegradable) debris.
  • Define single use plastic and its’ association with marine debris.
  • Predict and identify threats to marine wildlife and humans posed by marine debris.

Lesson 1 PDF Downloads

Lesson 1 Videos

Or view on HWF YouTube Channel:

Lesson 1 – Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBCs6KNHePQ
Lesson 1 – Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pYHZy9nXRfc

Lesson 2 – Sorting Marine Debris

Time: 60 minutes (grade K-1) or 90 minutes (2-5)


Students will have a short review from Lesson 1 focusing on impacts of marine debris. After the review, students will participate in a hands-on activity where they will be asked to utilize parts of the scientific method including, observing, hypothesizing, experimenting (classifying), and conclusion forming. Depending on grade level and ability, this may include graphing/ charting, and communicating results. Students will be introduced to the science of understanding and solving problems related to marine debris.


  • Utilize the Scientific Method and emphasize the cooperation/teamwork that is needed in sciences
  • Predict the effects that different types of debris will have on marine animals
  • Categorize different types of marine debris
  • Learn the difference between biodegradation and photodegradation as related to plastic marine debris
  • Create a group poster with information gathered from the classification exercise (grades 4-5 may produce bar graphs or pie charts)

Lesson 2 PDF Downloads

Lesson 2 Videos

View on HWF YouTube Channel:

Lesson 2 – Part 1: https://youtu.be/mgnXUgdG5hs
Lesson 2 – Part 2: Coming soon!

Lesson 3 – Solutions at Work

Time: 60 minutes or 120 min (extended)


Students will participate in a comprehensive review of repeated concepts and vocabulary words. They will explore and discuss different solutions to and prevention for the marine debris problem. Students will also brainstorm new creative solutions through art. Students will be asked to make a commitment to decreasing their plastic consumption by signing a Plastics Pledge.


  • Review current solutions to the marine debris problem
  • Brainstorm new solutions to the marine debris problem utilizing art

Lesson 3 PDF Downloads

Other Available Resources

See each of the following links for teacher resources that may be used before, during, and after the three MDKEO Lessons described above:

This curriculum was created collaboratively by Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund mentors: Kallie Barnes, Stacey Breining, Catherine Spina; program director: Megan Lamson; and the support of 52 elementary-school teachers on Hawaiʻi Island.

This version was updated in 2020 – please contact us at education@wildhawaii.org with any questions or suggestions to improve it further.