As part of National Geographic Society's Ocean Initiative, National Geographic Education is working to help teachers like you educate your students about the importance of ocean health and the establishment and management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

National Geographic Education has developed a series of teacher-tested classroom activities for you to use in your science courses, specifically to incorporate within your high school biology curriculum to teach students about marine ecology, human impacts on the ocean, and ocean conservation.

This collection of activities invites you to use current classroom technologies, videos, photo galleries, and maps to give students a clear view of the health and importance of the ocean. These activities provide you with tools that help students take effective notes, use graphic organizers, and formulate opinions about ocean-related environmental issues. This project-based learning experience culminates with students using their new knowledge about marine ecology and human impacts on the ocean to create and propose a management plan for a Marine Protected Area.

This unit was originally developed for the National Teacher Leadership Academy (NTLA) 2010 Summer Geography Institute.

2 hrs 45 mins
Photo: Water currents at dusk

Students investigate the interconnectedness of the ocean and Earth's physical and human systems through videos, discussions, writing, and mapping. They make personal connections to their own lives and are introduced to the concept of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

2 hrs 35 mins
Photo: Bubble Coral in Sogod Bay, Southern Leyte, Eastern Visayas.

Students explore major marine ecosystems by locating them on maps. Students use marine examples to learn about energy transfer through food chains and food webs. They discuss how food webs can illustrate the health and resilience of an ecosystem.

3 hrs 40 mins
Clownfish hides behind anemone in the Great Barrier Reef

Students analyze videos to make observations about species, populations, and communities of organisms and discuss their symbiotic relationships. Then they create a hypothetical marine ecosystem and describe the adaptive, trophic, and symbiotic relationships between the biotic and abiotic components of the ecosystem.

1 hr 40 mins
Photo: Fish buyers use flashlights to examine tuna spread on warehouse floor.

Students are introduced to the idea that humans have enormous impacts on marine ecosystems and resources, and explore the stakeholders involved.

7 hrs 10 mins
Picture of a turtle in a net.

Students learn about three examples of human impacts on marine life: migration patterns and shipping, algal blooms and water chemistry, and marine debris. Some of these impacts are due to human activity in the ocean, and some impacts on the ocean are due to human activity on land.

1 hr 50 mins
Photograph: Small, brightly colored fish swim in a coral reef.

Students build on their knowledge of individual impacts on the ocean to see how the whole system can react to threats and changes. They examine ways in which human actions throw marine ecosystems out of balance, explore the concept of how impacts can build, and review their understandings of ecosystem dynamics.

4 hrs 30 mins
Photo: Men harvest fish on a boat.

Students explore issues related to fisheries sustainability and simulate fish monitoring methods commonly used by scientists and resource managers.

4 hrs 45 mins
Photo: Yellow and blue striped fish swim through multicolored coral

Students explore Marine Protected Areas on an interactive map and compare and contrast three case studies. They learn how the MPA classification system works in the United States, apply that system to example scenarios, and create case studies of their own.

12 hrs
Photo: Healthy coral reefs in the Atlantic Ocean.

Students read a case study and debate the pros and cons of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the region. Then they select a Marine Protected Area and develop and present a management plan for it.

abiotic
Adjective

lacking or absent of life.

Noun

a modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence. An adaptation is passed from generation to generation.

anthropogenic disturbance
Noun

changes to the natural environment caused by human activity.

apex predator
Noun

species at the top of the food chain, with no predators of its own. Also called an alpha predator or top predator.

aphotic zone
Noun

the deepest ocean zone, below 914 meters (3,000 feet). Also known as the midnight or bathypelagic zone.

Noun

layers of gases surrounding a planet or other celestial body.

Noun

organism that can produce its own food and nutrients from chemicals in the atmosphere, usually through photosynthesis or chemosynthesis.

Noun

all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.

biogeography
Noun
study of the distribution of species and ecosystems in space and time.
biomagnification
Noun

process in which the concentration of a substance increases as it passes up the food chain.

biomass
Noun

living organisms, and the energy contained within them.

bioprospecting
Noun

process by which pharmaceutical companies buy or claim genetic resources from native species of a developing country.

biotic factor
Noun

effect or impact of an organism on its environment.

bycatch
Noun

fish or any other organisms accidentally caught in fishing gear.

case study
Noun

form of problem-based learning, where the teacher presents a situation that needs a resolution. The learner is given details about the situation, often in a historical context. The stakeholders are introduced. Objectives and challenges are outlined. This is followed by specific examples and data, which the learner then uses to analyze the situation, determine what happened, and make recommendations.

choropleth map
Noun

representation of statistical data, such as population, over a specific area using colors or patterns to represent types or intensity of data.

collapsed fishery
Noun

fishing industry where the number of fish has been severely reduced or depleted. Also called a depleted fishery.

commensalism
Noun

relationship between organisms where one organism benefits from the association while not harming the other.

common name
Noun

non-scientific name of a species, or what the organism is usually called.

coral reef
Noun

rocky ocean features made up of millions of coral skeletons.

Noun

steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.

Noun

area of low oxygen in a body of water.

decomposer
Noun

organism that breaks down dead organic material.

decomposition
Noun

separation of a chemical compound into elements or simpler compounds.

detritivore
Noun

organism that consumes dead plant material.

ecological succession
Noun

gradual, predictable changes to an ecosystem or habitat.

Noun

community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

eutrophication
Noun

build-up of sediment and organic matter in bodies of water, which may cause a change in the productivity of the ecosystem.

fishery
Noun

industry or occupation of harvesting fish, either in the wild or through aquaculture.

Noun

group of organisms linked in order of the food they eat, from producers to consumers, and from prey, predators, scavengers, and decomposers.

food pyramid
Noun

diagram of a healthy diet that shows the number of servings of each food group a person should eat every day.

Noun

all related food chains in an ecosystem. Also called a food cycle.

Noun

area of the North Pacific Ocean where currents have trapped huge amounts of debris, mostly plastics.

Noun

environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

harmful algal bloom (HAB)
Noun

rapid growth of algae, bacteria, or other plankton that can threaten an aquatic environment by reducing the amount of oxygen in the water, blocking sunlight, or releasing toxic chemicals.

Noun

organism that cannot make its own nutrients and must rely on other organisms for food.

Noun

all the Earth's water in the ground, on the surface, and in the air.

hydrothermal vent
Noun

opening on the seafloor that emits hot, mineral-rich solutions.

hypoxia
Noun

condition of not having enough oxygen in a substance, such as water or blood.

kelp forest
Noun

underwater habitat filled with tall seaweeds known as kelp.

Noun

garbage, refuse, or other objects that enter the coastal or ocean environment.

marine ecosystem
Noun

community of living and nonliving things in the ocean.

Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA)
Noun

(1999) California law passed to create a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) along the California coast.

Noun

part of the ocean protected by the government to preserve a threatened ecosystem or habitat. Marine parks are often recreational areas.

marine protected area (MPA)
Noun

area of the ocean where a government has placed limits on human activity.

Noun

part of the ocean where no fishing, hunting, drilling, or other development is allowed.

Noun

part of the ocean protected by the government to preserve its natural and cultural features while allowing people to use and enjoy it in a sustainable way.

mark-recapture method
Noun

way of monitoring animal population. A random group of animals is captured, marked with a tag or band, and released before another random group from the same population is captured. Some of the animals from the second group may have been tagged previously. Also called sight-resight, band recovery, and capture-mark-recapture.

microbe
Noun

tiny organism, usually a bacterium.

Noun

movement of a group of people or animals from one place to another.

mutualism
Noun

relationship between organisms of different species, in which both organisms benefit from the association.

niche
Noun

role and space of a species within an ecosystem.

Noun

area set aside by the government where all extractive activity, including fishing, mining, and drilling, is not allowed.

Noun

substance an organism needs for energy, growth, and life.

Noun

large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.

ocean basin
Noun

depression in the Earth's surface located entirely beneath the ocean.

ocean circulation
Noun

worldwide movement of water (currents) in the ocean.

oceanographer
Noun

person who studies the ocean.

open ocean
Noun

area of the ocean that does not border land.

overfish
Verb

to harvest aquatic life to the point where species become rare in the area.

oxygen
Noun

chemical element with the symbol O, whose gas form is 21% of the Earth's atmosphere.

parasitism
Noun

relationship between organisms where one organism (a parasite) lives or feeds on the other, usually causing harm.

Noun

process by which plants turn water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide into water, oxygen, and simple sugars.

phytoplankton
Noun

microscopic organism that lives in the ocean and can convert light energy to chemical energy through photosynthesis.

predator
Noun

animal that hunts other animals for food.

prey
Noun

animal that is hunted and eaten by other animals.

producer
Noun

organism on the food chain that can produce its own energy and nutrients. Also called an autotroph.

recovering fishery
Noun

fishing industry where catches are increasing after having been reduced or depleted.

Noun

natural or man-made lake.

salinity
Noun

saltiness.

scientific name
Noun

the name, usually in Latin, of an organism's genus and species.

shifting baseline
Noun

slow changes in the standard characteristics of an ecosystem, which cause the standards to be adjusted, such as overfishing leading to a lower "baseline" estimate of the fish population. Also called a sliding baseline.

spillover effect
Noun

process by which fish are protected within a no-take zone, then produce more offspring and eventually migrate into nearby, unprotected areas.

stakeholder
Noun

person or organization that has an interest or investment in a place, situation or company.

substrate
Noun

base of hard material on which a non-moving organism grows. Also called substratum.

Noun

use of resources in such a manner that they will never be exhausted.

sustainable fishery
Noun

industry of harvesting fish or shellfish that can be maintained without damaging the ecosystem or fish population.

sustainable seafood
Noun

fish, shellfish, and other aquatic organisms harvested from fish farms or fisheries that can be maintained without damaging the ecosystem.

symbiosis
Noun

two or more distinct organisms living together for the benefit of one or both.

Noun

degree of hotness or coldness measured by a thermometer with a numerical scale.

Noun

rise and fall of the ocean's waters, caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun.

toxic phytoplankton
Noun

aquatic organism that produces chemicals that, in large amounts, can be deadly to plants and animals.

trophic level
Noun

one of three positions on the food chain: autotrophs (first), herbivores (second), and carnivores and omnivores (third).

Noun

process in which cold, nutrient-rich water from the bottom of an ocean basin or lake is brought to the surface due to atmospheric effects such as the Coriolis force or wind.

wave
Noun

moving swell on the surface of water.

Funder