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Biomagnification in ocean food webs: Plastic pollution

Instructional Resource

Plastics are useful for many purposes, from keeping food fresh to providing lightweight protection (helmets, car bumpers, etc.). Certain plastics are also very good at sorbing toxic chemicals called persistent organic pollutants (POPs). In this activity, students take on roles in a simulated ocean food web that includes ingesting POP-contaminated prey. They develop and revise a model to show the relationships among variables in the ocean food web. By recording data from the ocean food web simulation, students see how POPs bioaccumulate in individual organisms at each trophic level and biomagnify in succeeding trophic levels. Students then participate in a guided discussion on the implications of POPs for ocean and human health and brainstorm ideas to reduce the presence of POPs and plastics in the ocean.