'Amazing’: Middle school team’s solution for plastic pollution gets national attention

'Amazing’: Middle school team’s solution for plastic pollution gets national attention

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At Wheeler Middle School, a team of six seventh-graders designed and built a model of their solution for cleaning up plastic pollution in the ocean.

“You’ve got two boats dragging a net that’s 5 feet above the surface. It drops down 80 feet into the water,” team member Payton Custis said.

The net would be microfiber, thinly woven with holes for fish to safely swim through to escape the garbage patch.

National Geographic selected the Wheeler team’s design for its GeoChallenge, an annual project-based student contest.

The team called Ka Mana Moana or “ocean power” made it through the first round.

"It's amazing! I myself didn't think we would make it this far," Cyrus Bretz said.

Wheeler’s one of only 250 schools National Geographic selected from across the U.S. The team’s teacher, Olga Dolgopolova, said that’s an impressive accomplishment.

"They can come up with solutions that adults can't even fathom. So let's give them the resources and let's do it!" she said.

On March 29, the kids will present their project to National Geographic judges on the mainland in the regional stage of the GeoChallenge.

The students began working on their idea in November, investing hours of free time to design and redesign.

"A lot of research, basically staying up to midnight doing research for a couple of months," Bretz said.

National Geographic will award $25,000 to the school with the winning product.

"I believe that our design is functional enough and cost-efficient that we have a good chance of winning," Custis said.

And there's another prize.

"The beauty of it is if you do win National Geographic will work with you to actually implement the solution on the real world basis," Dolgopolova said.

The motto at Wheeler Middle School is “respect.” Win or lose, the student scientists on their team have already earned it.

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