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Project title or topic of activity

Marine animals and their Environments

Author(s): Nick Moreno

Date: Fall 1999


Summary of Activity
50-100 words

In this activity the students will show what they have learned about marine environments, specifically the three main types, corral reefs, open oceans and bottom ocean. They will show what they have learned this by designing the environments using large moving boxes and designing the fish and/or animals that will be living within these environments. By physically designing these environments the students will get a better idea of why certain animals live where they do and the reasons behind why only certain animals and fish area able to live where they do.


Grade levels

The grade levels that are targeted are 4th and 5th graders.

General description or introduction
The scientific principles that the activity is founded on.

Begin by asking the students what they think the environments that are found in the ocean. Do they think they vary like our environments do? Why would fish and other marine animals need to adapt to their environments? How do we as humans adapt to our environments? Get the students to ask questions and become interested in the lesson plan so that they are excited about the project. Marine animals are adapted to their specific habitat. Fishes and other marine animalsŐ main concern in life are that they must be able to find food where they live and MUST protect themselves in the area that they are found in. Without these two main points, marine animals cannot survive in the ocean. The three main types of environments are corral reefs, open ocean, and oceans bottom. These environments area also known as photic zones, twilight zone, and deep sea. These later names area a little more advanced and should only introduced to the children if they are advanced enough in marine biology.

Background information

In order to be able to give this lesson plan to the children you, (teacher) must supply them with prior knowledge of ocean life. Like human life, environments they change depending on where in the world you are found, from icy mountains to sandy desert where water is scarce. This main principal applies to marine life as well. In the marine world there are three main types of environments, corral reefs, open ocean, and the sandy bottom ocean. When looking and fish and other marine animals it is easy to be able to pick out where they live by the features they posses.

The corral reef is the area just off the shore that has a great diversity of animals. These animals are usual bright colored and are most often found in saltwater aquariums. They are small, fast sprinters, very decoratively colored (a type of camouflage) and sometimes have pointy mouths so that they are able to nibble off the corral. Examples of marine animals from the reefs are Butterfly fish, Triggerfish, Parrotfish, snails, sea stars, Damsels and flatworms. These animals are also able to hide in the reefs in many of the nooks of the reefs because they are small enough to do so.

The open ocean is also filled with a wide variety of species but are designed a little different. These organisms are usually larger, very fast swimmers, have darker backs and lighter, silvery bellies (countershading, a form of camouflaging), can travel long distances and usually are the main predators of the seas. Ex: sharks whales, schooling fish, dolphins, octopuses, and squids. Countershading is a form of defense so that when there are predators above the animals there are backs are darker and look like the bottom of the oceans.When the predators are under the animal and look up the belly is lighter and looks like the sun reflecting off the ocean.

The last environment is the bottom of the ocean. These fish are special in the sense that they are very different in shape and function. The animals that live on the bottom of the ocean are unique in the sense that they are very different in shape. You can find animals that are flat or flat underneath them. Also, in the areas that are too dark and light cannot reach, many of the fish found have a feature called bioluminescence. Bioluminescence is where the organism glows and they use that as a source of light for them to find their way.

Credit for the activity

This idea was taken from Saxxon and Weber from a website the lesson plan is called "Predators/Prey: Fish, Feeding, Environments and General Behavior". My idea was taken from activity #1 and expanded to become one project that is more intense and requires more thought and input from the students

Estimated time to do the activity


Goals of Activity:

Goal A
Learn about marine environments

Goal B

Goal C
Fish Diversity

Goal D
{Goal D}


National Science Education Standards. (NSES)

Two content standards that this lesson plan covers:

Standard 1
Using data to construct reasonable explainations. Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environments.

Standard 2


Materials Needed

  • Glue,
  • construction paper,
  • 3 moving boxes,
  • scissors,
  • paperclips,
  • markers,crayons, pencils, highlighters,
  • staples,
  • string,
  • salt dough (4cups flour, 1cup salt, 1cup H20)


The moving boxes need to have the wider side cut off to have access to the inside of the box. You also need to be able to sit the box on a table to display the environments the students have created. The size of the box depends on the size of the class. The box size and number of fish can increase or decrease according to the teacherŐs descresion.

Step-by-Step Procedure for the Activity

**Divide the class into three groups. Assign each group a box and an environment to create. From what they have learned, the students are to build and design the environment in the most creative way they can with the supplies that they have to use.
**This should take about 1-2 hours depending on that you, as the instructor have put aside for this project. The instructor should be present to answer any questions that the students may have.

**Three NEW groups are to be assigned so that the children are mixed up from yesterdayŐs groups. Each group is assigned an environment for which they are to make fish that are to be put inside the box.
**With their knowledge of their environments and the many types of organisms that can be found in them, they are to make three fish/animals per student. No fish should be made twice.
**The students are to use as many resources as possible (prior knowledge, books, teacher assistance, library, etc.)
**Once the fish are complete they are to go to the boxes and place the fish inside. The students may choose to hang the fish with string, glue it to the box or staple it to the box.

Images, work sheets, additional web pages

{none available}

Items for discussion or conclusion

1st question

Why would small fish be found near the reefs?

2nd question
If you live near the bottom of the ocean, why would you want to be flat?

3rd question
Why do the fish near the reefs have brightly colored bodies?

4th question
How does countershading help?


Fish are made to live in the areas they do for protection, food, and the ability to blend into their environments. Everything has a reason for being where it is. The main reason that fish are where they are is because of protection and feeding.

Beyond the Activity
Further activities which relate to and extend the complexity of the experiment.

Once students have aquired the knowledge, teachers may opt to study about life in the reefs, or bony fish vs. catilage fish.

Web Resources
A web address with information on the topic of the activity.

Web Address

Additional References

Marine Biology by Castro and Huber (text book)