Beach clean-up turns into educational opportunity for Biology students

Freddy Beach
Students clean up the dunes at Freddy Beach

Greg LaBonte, M.S., visiting assistant teaching professor of biology, would always hear his students rave about how great Freddy Beach is. So, he wanted to include a trip to the beach as part of his freshman biology class.

Students in the class were doing a comparative ecology study, comparing the plant diversity between a forest and beach.

When LaBonte ventured down to the beach he was stunned to see how much trash had been left behind throughout the summer. His students were surprised as well to see how many items were strewn throughout the dunes.

“The beach grass is a really unique habitat and home to a lot of special and rare species,” LaBonte commented. “To see it in such a state, it really upset the students.”

LaBonte decided to turn the situation into a teaching moment. After the students did their measurements and comparisons for the ecosystem study, they spread out along Freddy Beach and the dune grass and began cleaning up the area.

“I said, ‘It would be really easy to take 10 minutes out of each lab and institute a trash initiative where we are cleaning up Freddy Beach,’” LaBonte explained. “The students were really happy to do it. They were engaged, energetic and excited about  it.”

The students gathered up bottles, microplastics, and fishing gear. It was enough to fill a large trash barrel.

Then came the teaching moment. The students experienced a real-life example of how pollution can affect the quality and diversity of an ecosystem.

“Based on what we just observed, I asked them ‘What are some of the abiotic, non-living factors, or biotic, living factors, that are contributing to diversity in these locations?’” LaBonte said. “They looked around and saw that pollution is part of the abiotic factors contributing to the health of the ecosystem, which in turn, contributes to diversity. They saw that pollution can really impact the habitat.”

The experience also empowered the students by showing them that they can make a difference.

“It was a good opportunity to show them that you don't have to wait for somebody to tell you to go and clean up an ecosystem,” LaBonte stated. “You can do it on your own. It's not hard to pick up a few bottles on your way out from the beach.”

This is the first year LaBonte included something like this in his class. He is planning to do it again in the fall semester next year and he is looking into the possibility of incorporating it into other locations on campus.

Student collecting trash
Lauren Beitler, Applied Exercise Science, '25, with trash she collected
Greg LaBonte in his office
Greg LaBonte, visiting assistant teaching professor of biology
Filled trash can
Trash collected from Freddy Beach

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