Water Education For All, Lesson 4: Natural Hazards and Disasters

Written by Sandra J. Lebron


In Water Education For All Lesson 4: Natural Hazards and Disasters, students learn about natural hazards that result from natural processes — and the water quality and water supply impacts. Humans cannot eliminate natural hazards, but can take steps to reduce their impact. It is important to note that severe weather doesn’t occur randomly, it occurs in specific times and places. In San Diego, we see drought due to climate change.

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Water Education For All, Lesson 3: Weather vs. Climate

Written by Sandra J. Lebron


In Water Education For All Lesson 3: Weather vs. Climate, students learn to distinguish between weather and climate using San Diego’s weather data over time (climate) and collecting temperature over a short period of time (weather).

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Water Education For All, Lesson 2: Marine Debris

Written by Sandra J. Lebron


In Water Education For All lesson 2: Marine Debris, students come to understand the problems caused by plastic pollution, explore solutions and become engaged as stewards of our beaches, rivers, and other water bodies. Using data from San Diego Coastkeeper beach cleanups students will learn the most common item found on our beaches, why this is a problem for our ocean, wildlife and human health, and how to prevent marine debris pollution.

We included the “How Long Does It Take to Break Down?” Beach Cleanup Activity, a short hands-on lesson that can be taught during a beach cleanup or in the classroom. Students will learn how long our trash can last in the ocean and the effects on our marine life. 

We also included a fable about a Garibaldi named Gerald. Gerald Discovers Debris will help your students to practice reading and writing while learning to care for the ocean and other living creatures (nice or naughty!).

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Water Education For All, Lesson 1: Watersheds and Water Quality

Written by Sandra J. Lebron


In Water Education For All Lesson 1: Watersheds and Water Quality, students will learn to test pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity using the World Water Monitoring Kits (or other available kits in their programs). These parameters will be used as a watershed case study to help students understand how our daily activities can make our watersheds healthy or polluted. They will compare San Diego Coastkeeper water quality data with their results. The lesson includes a PowerPoint with slide notes to help educators teach the lesson on their own.

Also for educators we have a list of materials and a one-page explaining how to build your own watershed model. These models may be used for future exhibits and hands-on presentations.

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Third Graders Bring Trash To Life

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

We love Explorer Elementary. After learning about pollution and water science from our interactive Project SWELL curriculum, Explorer Elementary teachers took their dedication to immersing students in environmental science concepts to a whole new level. Here’s a description they wrote about their latest project.

We are third grade students at Explorer Elementary Charter School and we studied plastic pollution and its effects on our environment. We learned that it is bad to throw trash or plastic on the ground, because it can go down storm drains and into the ocean. Marine life, birds and other animals often think the plastic is food. If they eat it they can get sick or die. This disrupts the food chain.

Plastic pollution doesn’t only affect sea life and animals. It also affects people. If the ocean is polluted, you can get sick from swimming in it. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade. It just gets smaller and smaller. The smallest thing can still make a gigantic impact. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an island of trash and plastic that never goes away. It just circles around and around due to ocean currents.

For our project, we wanted to educate people about plastic. First, we collected plastic from our homes and from our school. We worked in groups to choose which plastic pieces to use and laid the pieces out in the shape of different animals affected by plastic. We made multiple drafts and were critiqued by our teacher for each draft. We made posters from our photographs. Then we made notecards with our photos and a message. We sold them to raise money for San Diego Coastkeeper who helps keep our oceans clean. We hope people stop using plastic, or use reusable plastic rather than single use plastic, to help the world. If we stop using so much plastic we can stop the problem!

– Explorer Elementary Third Grade


Explorer Elementary Trash Project 2
Explorer Elementary Trash Project 3
Explorer Elementary Trash Project 4
Explorer Elementary Trash Project 5
 Explorer Elementary Trash Project 1

Our Kids Love “Gross Stuff” And That Makes Me Happy

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 8.56.19 PM

Haley Cahill was our education intern from January to June 2015. She is majoring in Environmental Studies at the University of San Diego and believes the answer to improving many of the threats that our environment faces, starts with education. Haley helped us to bring Project SWELL into San Diego Unified School District classrooms.

“Do you talk about gross stuff?” was the first question I received as I set up my presentation for these elementary school kids. I immediately replied with a “yes” and the 5th grade boy replied with a fist pump and an enthusiastic “Yes!”

I laughed, but I was thrilled to see these kids excited about pollution. As an education intern, I attended Bird Rock Elementary’s inaugural STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) Discovery Day, to try and ignite a passion for protecting and restoring our water in our next generation of leaders.

I love talking to students, it’s vital to instill in them why we need to care about our environment. Attending allowed me to see that Project SWELL, our water science education curriculum, is making a huge a difference! In each group of of kids, at least a few were already familiar with some of the material I was teaching. They would yell out an answer, or point out that they noticed pollution the last time they were at the beach.

As I looked out at all the faces I asked if anyone had ever been to a beach clean up. I was pleasantly surprised to see that over half had! These kids are already aware that their environment needs to be taken care of if they want to keep it healthy so they can continue to enjoy it as they do now. And the best part? They are excited to do it!

I can’t wait to meet other students as eager to learn as these kids were!

The Ocean Enthusiasts of Coronado Middle School

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 9.05.01 AMAn important step in protecting and restoring fishable, swimmable, drinkable water is making sure we have informed and passionate leaders in the next generation to which we can hand off our mission. Since we’ve started environmental education outreach programs like Project SWELL, we haven’t had a shortage of hope for the future of San Diego’s water. We continue to be inspired by our future leaders’ passion for water. This is one of our favorite stories. 

At Coronado Middle School, a teacher challenged her eighth grade students to choose their own topic for a research project about what human impacts are detrimental to our environment. This class, aptly named themselves the Ocean Enthusiasts, really wanted to focus on keeping the ocean they love clean. The students came up with an abundance of topics including the impacts of plastic bags, sewage waste, the current drought and marine pollution. At the close of their research, each created a video, poster or other illustration that showed the most important lessons they learned from this project. 

These students, after working on these projects, take away not only the information on how harmful our effect on the environment can be, but also the drive to do something about it. They reached out to San Diego Coastkeeper to see if we could use what they worked so hard on to educate others. This class and the teacher, Mrs. Landry, can now act as an example to other students and teachers. This is a great way to get students involved and excited about the environment and water quality. Both are intertwined and it is necessary to impose the importance of both of them to the younger generations.

Plastic Bag Enthusiast

San Diego Drought Enthusiast


“Water We” Westview wolverines going to do?: A High School Conservation/Ecology Project

Written by Sandra J. Lebron

Check out this water recycling dataThe challenge: Use the information on the water scarcity problems we face in San Diego to become the solution. That’s what Vicki Binswanger’s Biology class at Westview High School, Poway did. They used our education lessons and website for their class project and the results are very impressive. After learning how scarce our most important resource is, water, they were given the challenge to be a part of the solution. They had to either take action by:

  • Persuading or educating others in their community.
  • Reducing their own ecological impact.
  • Designing an experiment to further understand conservation.

Overall, this small project made a huge impact on the environment:

  • Several students managed to reduce their own water and electric bills, as well as trash production.
  • Other students educated their sports teams and children at local schools as well as persuaded local business people to promote eco-friendly ideas.
  • Many chose to design experiments where they answered their own questions related to the environment.
  • All students used research skills, analyzed data, used critical reading and writing skills and demonstrated scientific thinking. This confirms that environmental education not only promotes stewardship but also increase student’s college readiness.This water conservation report is awesome, check out why.

They also designed a website to share all their projects and titled it the Green Teen.

Ms. Binswanger loved the presentation materials, reports and data we provided. She was impressed with the outcome of the project and how well it reached the students. The project was especially successful in speaking to students that are less inspired by traditional activities because they saw authentic value in what we were doing. Using San Diego’s environmental real-life problems was important to help students connect with their science class.

Big thanks to Ms. Binswanger and her awesome biology class for sharing their project with us. You are a very inspiring group.

Project SWELL well equipped to educate future generations on water issues facing San Diego and possible solutions.

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

swell class projectTeachers have a great impact on the attitudes students have towards their class subjects and subsequently have the opportunity to cultivate an appreciation for San Diego Waterways. With the assistance of Think Blue and San Diego Coastkeeper’s Project SWELL curriculum, it has never been easier to instill a sense of environmental responsibility and awareness in San Diego youth.

swell class experimentThe environmental education made accessible by Project SWELL, online and through classroom presentations to all San Diego Unified School District teachers, enhances current science curricula to better address pressing environmental issues related to local waterways. The Project SWELL lesson plans help teachers meet new Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards as well as raise awareness of issues that impact the San Diego environment and actions that students can take to improve and sustain it.

For the first time ever, due to the generous donations from Stiefel/Behner Charitable Fund, Project SWELL offers a choice of classroom demonstrations. These demonstrations give students access to hands-on experiments and models that promote critical thinking in determining solutions for pollution problems in San Diego. Classroom visits also allow the teachers to learn the SWELL material in order to continue implementing in classrooms with the SWELL kit and PowerPoint presentations given to the teachers. The classroom visits consist of various lesson topics and are designed with grade levels in mind.

There are various subjects, each tailored to specific class levels. The topics include lessons about identifying a marine animals’ habitat, storm drain pollution, what types of pollution are found in San Diego waterways and San Diego watersheds, water sources, and conservation. Not only do these lessons teach students about the issues San Diego faces, but the curriculum also incorporates material on how students can personally contribute to alleviating the issue.

swell student assessmentsJudging by the pre-assessments and post assessment student results given at a variety of San Diego Unified District schools from September 2014 to December 2014, it is evident that Project SWELL lesson plans enhance students’ understanding of the connection between their actions and the natural environment.

Pre-assessments are given prior to the lesson plan and assess the knowledge on the presentation topics that students have preceding the lesson. The results demonstrate that many San Diego youth have a basic understanding on how their actions may affect the local waterways, as well as possible ways they can personally improve it. The post assessments indicate that Project SWELL deepens the students’ understanding about San Diego water supply, water conservation, and pollution problems.

The curriculum supplied by Project SWELL also helps teachers build their own environmental knowledge and teaching skills. We hope the skills and knowledge acquired from the curriculum will be a lifelong lesson for our students and teachers. We are confident that the Project SWELL lessons will motivate these individuals to inspire others to care about our most precious resource, water.

Time-Lapse Video of San Diego King Tides: Wetlands are the Superhero

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Wetlands are the superheroes of ecosystems. They may look like patches of mud and grass, but they’re saving San Diego one tidal flow at a time.

In addition, they help regulate climate, store surface water, control pollution, absorb fertilizers, protect shorelines, maintain natural communities of plants and animals, serve as critical nursery areas, and provide opportunities for education and recreation.

Every December, January and February, in particular, they hold back some of the ocean’s toughest tides. It’s during these months that we have some of the highest tides of the year, AKA king tides. The average king tide is 5 – 8 inches higher than the average high tide. That might not seem like a lot until you see the Ocean Beach Pier get completely swamped by massive waves. But king tides also affect our coastline infrastructure, and it’s our wetlands that soak king tides like a sponge. In fact, without the wetlands, San Diego’s infrastructure would be more at risk during every king tide.

Wetlands save the day year after year.

But here’s the problem: 90% of California’s wetlands have been lost to development. And king tides are just a taste of future high tides. By 2050, rising sea levels are predicted to make everyday ocean water levels 12-18 inches higher than today’s tides. That’s an everyday tide that’s more than double the height of our highest tides. And we’re continuing to develop the wetlands, making our coastline less and less resilient to the impending sea level rise.

The California Climate Change Center predicts nearly 140 schools, 34 police and fire stations and 350,000 miles of road are at risk in California from rising sea levels and development of wetlands. It estimates that nearly $100 billion (in year 2000 dollars) worth of property is at risk of flooding from a 100-year event.

But don’t take my written word for it.

Watch this time-lapse video showing the extreme high and low tides during king tides at Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh at Campland on the Bay. I think it’ll amaze you with how much water our wetlands absorb and also help you visualize why we must protect our remaining wetlands in San Diego.

Want to see this for yourself? Check out any of the remaining wetlands in San Diego County to watch nature’s sponge in action:

  • Tijuana River Valley
  • San Diego Bay Wildlife Refuge Complex
  • San Diego Bay Wildlife Refuge
  • Paradise Point
  • San Diego River Estuary
  • Famosa Slough
  • Kendall-Frost Mission Bay Marsh
  • Los Penasquitos Lagoon
  • San Dieguito Lagoon
  • San Elijo Lagoon
  • Batiquitos Lagoon
  • San Luis Rey Estuary