Education For Ocean Sustainability by Lingzi Xu

When I see the phrase “ocean for sustainability”, the first scene that comes into my mind is the documentary produced by Craig Leeson, a plastic ocean. The film demonstrates beautiful shots of the marine environment, where this contrasts with footage of heavily polluted cities and dumps full of plastic rubbish. Most plastics break into smaller pieces that can persist in beaches and oceans for a long period of time. From the film review written by Gary Truong, “These scenes show the facts that human’ action and choices indeed impact the oceans and the planet.”

At the same time, China has also faced a series of problems about plastic rubbish especially some coastal cities such as Shenzhen and Shanghai. According to State Oceanic Administration of People’s Republic of China, Shenzhen tops in the board concerning ocean pollution such as plastic bottles, cardboard, cans and glass. Especially due to the fact that plastics are so affordable, they are used extensively in a number of developing countries (you can see the website in the references).

Many regions in Shenzhen fail to provide effective waste management and state-of –the- art technology; therefore, the large amount of rubbish is washed into the ocean from beaches or rivers in rainy days. Some scholars such as (Morton and Blackmore, 2001),stated that more than 5 million pieces of plastic are currently floating in offshore water in Shenzhen.

Consequently, solving the problem is a heated topic in China, and from my perspective, one of the effective methods to achieve the purpose is integrating fulling the aspect of sustainability into primary education systems. Nevertheless, there is lacking a complicated system to impart such knowledge in the area, and that is the reason why we decide to disseminate ocean-sustainability information to elementary students.

Sustainability literature

In my effort to understand the meaning of ocean sustainability, I searched numerous literature and websites. However, I found that there are a little articles and websites talking about the topic in China; therefore, I decided to draw upon on other countries’ successful strategies and action which help me develop and weave my ocean- sustainability ideas. Most of literatures describe ocean sustainability in terms of how to develop fisheries sustainability, how to solve climate change, how to alleviate ocean acidification and how to prevent plastic pollution.

In the process, I also found that several literatures that have helped shape my minds in educating ocean sustainability. The first is by Brody (2005) who designed a hands-on activity between primary schools and a marine life centre in New Zealand. Based on his theory of learning in nature, he stated that integrating environmental knowledge with emotional aspects and physical interaction from wildlife played an important role in gaining psychological benefits such as positive moods and emotions, environmental sensitivity and sense of place and species, and this action is beneficial to increase participants’ environmental awareness as well.

The second article is written by Moscardo, Woods and Saltzer (2004) who promoted environmental interpretive programs named “Marine wildlife tourism”. It includes different activities such as marine wildlife-watching holidays, boat trips in marine areas, coastal walks and participating in study tours or conservation holidays. Primary schools from Greece participated the program in Zakynthos island where students cultivated personal understanding, concern, and empathy for turtles and develop ocean-sustainability awareness by verbal commitment and physical involvement.

Experiential learning and learning theories: an effective way to practice hands-on activities for educating sustainability

Experiential learning is to engage learners in direct experiences with focused reflection, and it increases ones’ knowledge, develops skills and capacity to contribute to the community. Hands-on learning is a form of experiential learning, which is concerned with more concrete issues concerning to the learner and the learning context (Nolet,2015).

I also came across some theories about learning process, and it includes three learning theories such as the behaviorist orientation, the cognitive orientation and the social-situational orientation. To be more specific, every orientation has own target. The goal of the behaviorist orientation is to provide changes in learners’ behavior in good aspects, and the cognitive orientation is to help learners have a capability of learning; the social and situational approach aims to improve involvement in communities(Merriam and Clark, 1991).

Bandura(1990) also proposed these concepts are reciprocal determinism. Besides, he deemed that hands-on activities in protecting ocean environment such as monitoring water  quality , picking up wastes in beaches, observing the effect of litter on marine animals and raise students’ awareness of their own environmental context were a good example to illustrate it. According to his perspective, such educational activities should be provided in young ages because early childhood is the best time to cultivate learners’ environmental interest and attitudes.


Designing a hands-on activity for ocean sustainability

In order to achieve the purpose of imparting knowledge effectively, I combine experiential learning and particular learning theories into designing my own hands-on activity: using recycled litter from ocean to make useful items. There are some designing websites useful to my activity (you can see the website below).



Figure 1 is a demonstration of studio swine turning ocean plastic into crafted objects. Studio Swine’s Gyrecraft collection includes pieces that incorporate plastic trawled from the oceans, based on the tradition of maritime crafts and making at sea.


Figures 1
Figures 1
Figures 1
Figures 1








Figure 2 is a demonstration of Stella McCartney of using ocean plastic for upcoming fashion line. Adidas and fashion designer Stella McCartney have revealed a new version of the Ultra Boost trainer that features an upper made from plastic recovered from the sea.


Figure 2
Figure 2


Figure 3 is a demonstration of architecture firm Spark unrevealing plains for colorful beach huts built from recycled ocean plastic. This office using some of the millions of tons of plastic waste dumped into the world’s oceans every year to build a series of unusual architectural structures along the shoreline.


Figure 3
Figure 3
Figure 3
Figure 3









Drawn upon these ideas and theories what I mentioned above, I determine to initiate a crafting lesson using recycled rubbish from ocean in primary schools. Firstly, participants are required to review their former experience about how to deal with rubbish and write down what belongs to recycled. After that, the teacher shows them official answers, and learners are divided into three or four peers to complete a work such as plastic lamps, DIY flowers with plastic bottles, toys and so on.

To sum up, the kind of activity is necessary to identify students’ social responsibility of facing ocean pollution, develop critical thinking and sustainability minds in daily life. By the end of the activity, participants could have informed a sustainable social capable of making a difference in our community



Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual review of psychology, 52(1), 1-26.

Brody, M. (2005). Learning in nature. Environmental Education Research, 11(5), 603-621.

Merriam, S. B. & Clark, M. C. (1991). Lifelines: Patterns of Work, Love, and Learning in Adulthood: ERIC.

Morton, B. & Blackmore, G. (2001). South China Sea. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 42(12), 1236-1263.

Moscardo, G., Woods, B. & Saltzer, R. (2004). The role of interpretation in wildlife tourism. Common Ground Publishing.

Nolet, V. (2015). Educating for sustainability: Principles and practices for teachers: Routledge.