Drowning in Plastic

Drowning in Plastic

Explore how the currents that make up the five major ocean gyres carry plastic around the world and concentrate it into areas of floating trash commonly referred to as “garbage patches.”


5 - 8


Biology, Ecology, Conservation, Earth Science, Oceanography

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Morgan Stanley

Drowning in Plastic

Introduce students to the concept of ocean currents using the Ocean Surface Currents map in National Geographic MapMaker. Using the “Drowning in Plastic” infographic, discuss the following questions as a class:

  • How does plastic get into the ocean? What continents/countries send the most plastic into the ocean?
  • Yellow funnels show where rivers dump plastic into the ocean. Is plastic concentrated at the mouths of rivers? Why or why not?
  • In what ocean locations is plastic most concentrated? Why is it concentrated in those places?
  • What parts of the ocean have the least plastic pollution? Why do you think they are less polluted?

Have students sketch and label the five major ocean gyres on the “Drowning in Plastic” map. Use the updated map to discuss the following as a class:

  • What do you notice about the location of major gyres compared to the location of plastic patches?
  • The North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea have high concentrations of plastic even though rivers do not dump much plastic into these waters. How do you explain this?
  • Notice that ocean plastic is found off the coast of Greenland even though no obvious sources of plastic are nearby. Trace the path plastic might take to arrive at this location.
  • Plastic from Scotland has been found on Henderson Island in the North Pacific Ocean. Trace the path it might have taken to get there. Which currents might be responsible for carrying it?
Worksheets & Handouts
Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
André Gabrielli, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

January 22, 2024

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