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MarineQuest Introduces iRefuz, a Free App for Tracking Trash to Prevent Marine Debris

Saturday, June 04, 2016

UNCW’s MarineQuest team, in partnership with NOAA through their Marine Debris Prevention through Education and Outreach Program and Jeff Brown, UNCW professor of mathematics and statistics, has developed a new app for tracking trash called iRefuz.

The team hopes that students and teachers who participate in the UNCW/NOAA project, Traveling Through Trash: Coastal Migratory Animal Encounters with Marine Debris (3T), will use the free app to help prevent harmful marine debris from entering the ocean.

Since October 2015, MarineQuest has traveled more than 7,700 miles with “Watson,” a life-size inflatable whale classroom, bringing the 3T program to more than 9,200 elementary and middle school students in underserved and rural communities in North and South Carolina. The goal of the program is to teach students about environmental issues related to marine debris.

The iRefuz app was developed to evaluate changes in student attitudes and behaviors after they learn how marine debris affects migratory organisms. Another goal is to help students become mindful of the choices they make before generating harmful trash.

“We want the 3T program to have an impact,” said Sue Kezios, director of UNCW’s Youth Programs. “If we teach students how trash affects the environment, but nothing about their behavior changes, what’s the point? We created the app to help kids take ownership of what they’re learning and translate it into action.”

Using images and activity grids, the iRefuz app and an associated webpage are designed to help users understand which commonly used items, such as aluminum cans, snack food bags and balloons, are most harmful to the environment and how frequently they’re used. A counter records each user’s choice not to generate harmful forms of trash. Developers also hope data collected over time will allow them to measure changes in behavior by identifying items that are most often avoided once individuals begin using the app.

Kezios said the iRefuz app and the webpage are great resources for teachers or parents looking to help students understand the importance of marine debris prevention, but getting students to understand how to use the app was more complicated than expected. “The kids understand that if they generate trash, they should recycle it. But getting them to understand that they can choose not to create certain kinds of trash in the first place has been more difficult,” she noted.

To help with this confusion, the 3T team created a series of posters for teachers to use in their schools to help kids understand that they can “just say no” to trash-generation. In late June, the team will provide a professional development workshop for teachers who participated with the 3T project this school year. The iRefuz app will be a featured topic of the workshop.

The iRefuz app became available at the beginning of March through the Google Play store, and is now available through the Apple App Store for iPhone and iPad:

Find iRefuz in the App Store at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/irefuz/id1093547944?mt=8

Find iRefuz in the Google Play store at: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mymobed.threeT

For more information, visit the iRefuz website at www.uncw.edu/marinequest/TravelingThroughTrash.html.

Follow the UNCW/NOAA project, Traveling Through Trash: Coastal Migratory Animal Encounters with Marine Debris on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/travelingthroughtrash.