Caring for our coasts: beach survey

Time Allocation: 45 minutes*

Activity Level: Moderate


This learning activity investigates microplastics, where they are found and how they end up in our coastal waters.

*Time allocation does not include travel time to the beach and coordinating the groups and equipment.


  • Printable activity sheet
  • Clipboard
  • Pencils
  • 5 x Fine mesh sieve
  • 5 x 10m tape measure or 10m rope
  • 5 x buckets
  • 5 x hula-hoops
  • 5 x garbage bags
  • 5 x small spades
  • Gloves
  • Camera
  • Scale card
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Instructions

    Step 1 (5 mins)

    Discussion: what rubbish?

    Refer to the top 10 types of rubbish found in the marine environments on the activity sheet. Discuss why they are in the top 10 and their impacts to the marine environment. 

    How many of these are plastic?

    Step 2 (5 mins)

    Beach survey: set up

    Locate each group 100m apart on the high tide mark. Record the date, time, location, group names and weather on your activity sheet. Take a photo of your site.

    Each group measures out 10m with the tape measure or rope. Place the hula-hoop at the 0 point.

    You’re ready to start!

    Step 3 (30mins)

    Beach survey: observation and collection

    • Take a photo of survey point 1
    • Record the rubbish and natural debris you find within the hula-hoop circle on the activity sheet
    • Use the spade to fill up the sieve with a sample of sand from within the hula-hoop
    • Gently shake the sand through the sieve
    • Record in the data sheet if there are microplastics present
    • Put rubbish in the garbage bag for disposal
    • Empty sample of microplastic into the bucket
    • Repeat steps at the 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 metre mark.
    Step 4 (5 mins)

    Beach survey: pack up 

    Collect all equipment and rubbish from your sites. Recycle rubbish where possible. Take samples of microplastic back to school.

    Extension Activity

    Sort through and classify the microplastics found during the beach survey. This could be by size or shape (fragments, fibres, beads, foams, pellets). Review your collection and devise a way to represent what you have collected. You could use infographics to communicate this. 

    Link your clean-up project to Coastcare Week, Landcare Week, Clean up Australia Day or the Marine Environment Litter Program. Share your work and successes to encourage others to care for the coast.