Six months ago, we started on an incredible adventure by creating a brand new youth program, the Ocean First Explorers Club, right here in the mountains of Colorado. This club was designed to not only encourage exploration and discovery of the marine world, but to instill a sense of community and leadership within our members.

Over many meetings, our students have not only learned about sea turtles, whales, and albatross, but also about gyres, microplastics, and recycling. Our focus for the semester was on a complex and global issue: Marine Pollution.


Students identifying marine life vs. microplastics in water samples taken from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Now why would students, so far from the coast, be concerned with plastic floating around in the ocean? Pollution within our ocean not only negatively impacts marine life, but starts a chain of reactions that leads to negative impacts, right here on land. Plastic can travel up the food chain and end up on our very own plates. We simply cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy ocean.

Over 8 million tons of plastic end up in our ocean every year and 80% of this comes from the land. Plastic is able to travel, through wind and water, thousands of miles from inland all the way to the sea. In total, there is over an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating in our ocean today. Preventing this pollution, starts with us. By holding not only ourselves, but the organizations we support, accountable, we can stop this pollution problem from its source.20160312_095602

Non-natural items, such as fishing line, rope, and small pieces of plastic, sorted from an albatross bolus dissection.

Our students know about plastic pollution; they see trash along creeks, in our parking lots, and when they go on trips to the coast. To help our youth with such an overwhelming problem facing our planet, we do more than educate. We help our Explorers understand the reasons behind such a major issue, and, ultimately, what we can be done to make a change!

When we learn, we care, and when we care, we can make a difference. Our goal for this incredible club is to empower our youth, to inspire leaders within local communities, and to motivate positive change.

We do this by bringing the ocean to our Explorers and making learning fun. Our club members this semester were able to make ocean friendly soap from scratch, dissect real albatross boluses, and even create their own art from plastic debris to creatively raise awareness on this very important issue! Through this club, our Explorers have been able to not only discover the world of sea turtles and whales, but also discover that they can take action and help improve our natural world.

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Students getting a chance to be a sea turtle biologist and practice what it is like to take measurements out in the field.

Explorers taking the pledge to Ban the Bag and use their new canvas bags they decorated in place of plastic bags when they visit the store!

So what kinds of things did our Explorers learn to make a positive difference? Try skipping plastic straws when you dine out, choose reusable canvas bags instead of plastic ones at the store, check the ingredient list of your cosmetics and toiletries to make sure they are microbead-free, and help out every day by picking up any litter you might see on the ground where you live!

All of us at Ocean First Institute, staff and volunteers, have been so impressed and inspired by these students and their passion for the ocean world. Our Explorers not only created individual marine debris art pieces and informational posters, but we ended our semester with a local creek cleanup and have used trash from the event to create a traveling plastic pollution art piece. With the help of our club members, we will be able to spread awareness of this issue to audiences throughout the state. Already, posters and artwork from our Explorers have traveled to events at the Denver Zoo and Ocean First Divers, reaching over 1,000 individuals! This program gives hope for the future and these incredible conservation stewards. We cannot wait to see this club continue to grow in Colorado and see what positive changes our Explorers can bring about, no matter their age or where they might live!


Interested in joining or starting your own Ocean First Explorers Club? The Fall semester (starting in September 2016) will cover the issue of Climate Change. Contact us today ( to register or learn more!DSC_0014

Having fun making art out of plastic debris!