By participating in and contributing to one of the largest STEM campaigns in the world the 2021 STEM Discovery Campaign, Alytus Jotvingiai Gymnasium, started implementing STEM activities, indicating them on the map of STEM discovery campaign. Through its activities, we will seek to participate in the European Blue School Network, which is set up at the initiative of the European Commission and partners with DG Mare and EU4Ocean. The STEM discovery campaign focuses on two very important themes: sustainability and citizenship. Our gymnasium teachers take action by organising activities that increase students’ understanding of a Healthy and Clean Ocean, highlighting the relevant skills that students will need in the near future.
Starting this activity “Healthy and Clean Ocean“, we organized a lecture-discussion “Pollution of the Baltic Sea with plastics ” with Dr. Arūnas Balčiūnas, Klaipėda University Institute of Marine Research; Leibniz-Institute for Baltic Sea Research (IOW) Germany. The lecture was attended by high school students and teachers.
The Baltic Sea is recognized as one of the most polluted and ecologically threatened seas in the world – excessive emissions of nutrients and toxic chemicals, increasing sea uses such as shipping, oil transportation and related pollution risks, increasing amounts of invasive species, commercial large scale fishery, etc. have left the vulnerable ecosystem of the Baltic Sea in a dangerously unfavorable condition.
The water in the Baltic Sea contains a lot of very small plastic particles collectively known as microplastics since they are so small we almost can’t see them. Some of the main sources of microplastics include personal care products and clothing. Microplastics are deliberately put into these products and as they get used and washed these plastics pass into the sewage system before eventually finding their way into the marine environment.
Unfortunately, waste water treatment plants cannot filter them out because they are so small and there is no way to remove them once they enter the water system. Most of the plastic waste reaching the Baltic Sea originates from land, predominantly from big cities surrounding the Baltic Sea. It is therefore very important to implement measures to reduce the formation of waste before it reaches the sea.
The students learned about artificial polymeric materials polluting the Baltic Sea coast, the physical properties of microplastics in the marine environment, and its damage to marine organisms. The transport and movement of pollutants in the marine environment causes socio-economic damage and impacts on human health. Increased areas of microplastic particle pollution are observed on the Lithuanian-Latvian coast. In the search for solutions, it is important to identify the extent of litter pollution, the potential sources of pollution that lead to high anthropogenic pressures on the marine environment. Marine plastic is a special threat because it does not fully degrade, instead of breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics. Ocean dwellers, such as sea turtles and fish, can mistake the debris for food, leading to digestive issues and starvation. Science fiction became a reality as early as 1870. In science fiction, Jules Verne described how floating debris and “spam” accumulate in the oceans and seas. The main goals of introducing the ocean to the classroom are to improve understanding of the ocean, to take a sense of responsibility for one’s planet. It is a challenge for all European schools to find and explore the connection with the seas and oceans.
By participating in the creation of the European Blue School, teachers are actively making the ocean an important part of the school in terms of curricula. It is a challenge for schools to choose a relevant ocean theme and create a school project with students. Pupils become active and responsible European citizens. Upon successful completion of the project, schools will receive European Blue School certificates. All certified European Blue Schools will be part of the European Blue School Network, where teachers and pupils will become agents of change and sustainability in the oceans and seas, sharing experiences with other teachers and pupils in other schools.