2023 Central District All Faculty Symposium – Natural Resources
Kovacs, C.J., UF/IFAS Extension Flagler County, 150 Sawgrass Rd Bunnell FL 32110
Situation and objectives: Plastic pollution is one of the most detrimental environmental issues worldwide, with ocean-based pollution being of particular concern in coastal Florida counties. Each September, individuals and organizations participate in a large-scale beach cleanup called the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). Local government and non-profits organize the ICC event throughout Volusia and Flagler Counties but do not involve an educational component. The objective of this program was to enhance the volunteers’ experience by providing context to the issues of plastic pollution and providing them with information about behaviors they can incorporate into their lives beyond the day of the ICC. Methods: A virtual education program was developed and advertised in conjunction with organizers of the ICC in both counties. In the days prior to the cleanup, participants joined an interactive Zoom presentation about plastic pollution and ways to reduce plastic use. The educational program engaged participants through a real-time virtual experiment and several poll questions. Results: 95% of participants (n=18) who completed a post-program evaluation reported a) they learned new and useful information during the presentation, and b) they planned on doing something differently based on what they learned. In a 6-month follow up survey, 4 of 5 respondents stated that the virtual program enhanced their participation in the ICC and all five reported sharing the information they learned during the program with others. Conclusions: Participants were able to gain a deeper understanding of issues surrounding plastic pollution, which enhanced their participation in the beach cleanup. Those participants also shared the information they learned with others during the cleanup event, thus multiplying the effect of the educational program. UF/IFAS Extension was able to provide an educational component for an existing program organized by local governments and community organizations, benefiting all who participated.