Collect. Upload.

Collect. Upload.

16 September to 18 November

Collecting data for science

“Plastic Pirates” – young people aged 10 to 16 working in project teams – are going to collect data on plastic litter in and along waterways throughout Germany. How much and what types of plastic litter can be found? Where are particularly large amounts of waste piling up? What role do velocity and depth of water play? The "Plastic Pirates" will use scientific methods to filter, weigh, count and document the results on a digital map of Germany.

The data will then be processed by the Kiel Research Workshop (Kieler Forschungswerkstatt), where researchers will draw conclusions as to which river sections are especially polluted with plastics and how pollution builds up from river source to river mouth. This will allow protection measures to be developed which not only benefit the rivers and oceans but ultimately also us.

“Plastic Pirates” is a citizen science campaign which contributes to research on the distribution of macro- and microplastics along German rivers. Citizen science projects allow interested people to get involved directly in the research process, and means that scientific professionals work hand in hand with the general public.

The conditions for participation can be found here.


Key Dates

Research period: Sampling from 16 September to 18 November 2016
Deadline for data input: Research data must be entered into the map by 4 December 2016.

You can find frequently asked questions (FAQs) here.


German-British research cooperation

The United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany have cooperated on marine research for many years. Now, the UK is Germany’s partner country in Science Year 2016*17, in which our two countries are working to jointly explore, use and protect the seas and oceans.
British pupils are invited to come to Germany during the sampling period (16 September to 18 November) to become part of this exciting and informative experience. British "Plastic Pirates" can pursue key questions related to the environment and strengthen their partnerships with their German partner schools during a joint project week. Travel and accommodation costs can be reimbursed for British school classes which have a German partner school. Applications for reimbursement have to be submitted via the German partner school.
Please note that costs for supply cover cannot be covered.
All participating schools are responsible for all organisational duties related to the visits, including logistics, risk assessment and travel insurance. 

Plastic Pirates on

Deutsche Welle (DW) is Germany's public international broadcaster. They reported on Plastic Pirates in northern Germany.

Watch the report on

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

For pupils and other young participants

What is citizen science?

Citizen science projects allow interested people to get involved directly in the research process, and means that professional scientists work hand in hand with the general public. “Plastic Pirates” is a citizen science campaign which records information about what is known as macro- and microplastic waste along German rivers.

I am a pupil at a school in the UK – How can I take part in the campaign?

Does your school have a partner school in Germany? If so, the chances are good that you can take part. Talk to your teacher about the campaign. If you want to set up a project group, your teacher only has to get in touch with your German partner school. If it is taking part in the campaign it can contact us and we will then contact us and we will in turn help you plan your research trip to Germany.

Who is responsible for the research work on the scientists' side?

The Kiel Research Workshop is a laboratory for pupils at all school year levels and is our partner in this project. Pupils and experts will jointly evaluate the collected data under the stewardship of Dr Martin Thiel (who is a Professor of Marine Biology at the Universidad Católica del Norte in Coquimbo, Chile). The Kiel Research Workshop is supported by the "Future Ocean" cluster of excellence network and the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education which are both located at the Christian-Albrechts-University in Kiel.

What constitutes a project group?

A project group can be any group of participants (school classes, youth groups, etc.) which has chosen a name under the "Plastic Pirates" youth campaign and comprises at least six people. Young people from the UK can only take part as part of a school class and if they work together with a German partner school. During the project phase, the group will be split up into five to six smaller groups which will be assigned different types of research work. You can learn more about this on page 15 of the campaign brochure.

Can I participate as an individual?

The "Plastic Pirates" campaign is a joint scientific effort for a good reason. An individual person is hardly up to fulfilling the scientifically challenging task within such a short time. Also, cooperating and networking is a particularly important element of the campaign. That is why individual participants are not allowed to take part in the campaign.

How will the data be collected?

You will take samples during a research trip to a river or similar waterway. Up to five smaller groups can take part in the hunt for plastic waste. You can find out more about how that works and what you have to bear in mind on page 14 of the learning materials and worksheets.

What tasks do we have to perform?

The work of the project group - ranging from measuring the flow speed of the water and taking samples near the riverbank and in the water to the meticulous recording of the data - has to comply with scientific standards. Learn more about the details of your tasks on pages 14 to 34 in the learning materials and worksheets.

How will we submit the data?

You will need to upload your data online on the German "Plastic Pirates" website. You can find all the details on page 35 of the Campaign Workbook.

Where will I be able to find the results of all the data samples?

All the data will be entered into a digital map of Germany. You can find this map on the German website only.

What prizes are on offer?

Every German project group which complies with the rules of participation will be entered into a draw for one of the main prizes: a trip to the sea, a guided canoe tour or a visit to a fascinating underwater world. There are also a number of other prizes to be won. Unfortunately, UK schools cannot be entered into the draw.

Are there any conditions for participation?

Yes, the "Plastic Pirates" campaign involves certain rules that have to be met, if only to ensure that the data you collect is scientifically reliable.

The most important rules are the following:

The campaign will take place from 16 September until 18 November 2016, which means that all research projects must be completed by the end of this period (in other words, all samples must have been taken by this time). Research data must be uploaded by 4 December 2016. Once this has been done, your project group will automatically be entered into the draw and your data will be made available to the scientists working at the Kiel Research Workshop under the stewardship of Professor Thiel. The winners will be notified by 31 December 2016.

Are there any deadlines?

The most important dates to remember are the start and end of the campaign on 16 September and 18 November and the latest possible date to upload your data on 4 December 2016.

What is the duration of the campaign?

The campaign will take place from 16 September until 18 November 2016. The data collected during this period must be uploaded by 4 December.

What age restrictions apply to "Plastic Pirates"?

You can take part in the campaign as long as you are aged 10 to 16 and apply as part of a German-British project group (school class or youth group).

For group leaders and teachers

What is the maximum group size for participating in the campaign?

A project group must comprise at least six and a maximum of 30 young people. Any number that can be divided by five or six is best as the group will be split up into several smaller groups over the course of the campaign.

Which school subjects lend themselves to participation?

Of course, the classic science subjects such as biology, geography or physics are particularly suitable, but arts subjects, too, can address relevant issues. The action is deliberately designed in such a way that it can be dealt with jointly from the point of view of several different school subjects (for example as part of a dedicated project week).

What duties of supervision apply to the excursion?

There is no difference between the joint work carried out in the research field and other school trips and the supervisory responsibilities those excursions entail in Germany. In accepting the terms of participation, schools, clubs or other participating organisations assume full responsibility for the participating pupils from Germany and the UK.

The campaign

Find out how young people can become “Plastic Pirates” working like real scientists. This is how it works.

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The rules

There are a few rules you need to comply with if you want to take part. Learn more about them here.

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Download all the relevant information and working materials including leaflets and the learning materials and worksheets here.

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Editorial Office Science Year 2016*17 - Seas and Oceans

Gustav-Meyer-Allee 25, 13355 Berlin, Germany
Tel.: +49 30 81 87 77-166
Fax: +49 30 81 87 77-125
Email: plasticpirates(at)
Office hours: Mon to Fri 9 am to 1 pm and 2 to 6 pm (UTC+1)