Marine Protected Area Lesson Plan: Elementary School

Learn about human impacts on marine ecosystems using MY HERO multimedia resources.


Marine Protected areas provide a great introduction to teaching students about conservation biology on both local and global scales. These areas provide models for healthy ecosystems in case of natural disasters, pollution events, and climate change. In addition, they provide an invaluable opportunity for students to engage in citizen science, allowing them to play the role of a true scientific researcher in localized monitoring. By performing citizen science students can assess if marine protected areas are in fact improving local marine populations and creating healthier ecosystems.


Students will:

∙ Engage in meaningful activities focus around Marine Protected Areas and their role as citizen scientists in maintaining the health of our local and global oceans.



Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) play an important role in ensuring the future sustainability of our local coastal ecosystems. These MPAs designate certain parts of the oceans and great lakes as areas that must be conserved. In the U.S. alone there are over 1,600 designated MPAs, spanning a variety of marine habitats including: rocky-intertidal, mudflats, estuaries, open oceans, and coastal waters. These MPAs maintain current species populations, while also allowing them to grow without the threat of mass scale harvesting by fisheries. These species grow and spill out over the designated MPA area, allowing local marine populations to thrive and local ecosystems to maintain healthy food webs. All MPAs are part of a larger federal network that allows shared regulation and research to ensure that these conservation areas are making a positive impact. Scientists take monthly surveys to look at biodiversity, population fluctuations, water quality, and productivity. In addition to scientists, local citizens play a vital role in data collection and monitoring through citizen science. In a world where fish stocks are dwindling, climate change is altering ecosystems, and pollution is a constant threat, MPAs provide a sense of relief for local marine ecosystems.

Citizen science is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur scientists. Citizen science is sometimes described as "public participation in scientific research". 



My Hero Films 

Human Impacts on Marine Food Webs 

Guided Discussion



The following questions will help you determine if your students gained appropriate understanding. For further assessment students could be tested on basic concepts.

1. What role do Marine Protected Areas play in the sustainability of local coastal ecosystems?

2. Why do Marine Protected Areas Exist?

3. What methods do scientists and citizen scientist use to track populations and biodiversity in MPAs overtime?

4. How does data collection provide a role in the maintenance of existing MPAs and the establishment of others?



This lesson is meant to give students a basic introduction of Marine Protected Areas and basic citizen science. However there are several ways to extend or expand the lesson.

If you live in an area where an MPA is accessible it would be very beneficial to to take a field-trip the rocky-intertidal. Make sure to check with local state beach authority to give them a heads up.

Bring in a local researcher to discuss ways students can engage in citizen science.

If students have iphones, have them download various citizen science or conservation apps such as fishfinder or seafood watch and challenge them to engage throughout the year.


Lesson Plan Activities



1. Review or introduce the following terms:

● Biodiversity

● Species, Population, Community, Ecosystem

● Conservation

● Marine Protected Area



2. Define Marine Protected Area

3. Q. How do you think the establishment of Marine Protected Areas alters biodiversity, populations, ecosystem health? (5 min)

● Have students think pair share

● Whole class share out

4. Q. Why might we need Marine Protected Areas at this time in history? (5 Min)

● Have students think pair share

● Whole class share out

● Read Background on Marine Protected Areas and Citizen Science Provided

5. Watch My Hero films (13 min): Citizen Science, AND Sylvia Earl  (**Note: These films could be shown one class prior to the activity)

6. Have students review the handout attached and answer the questions to solidify their understanding of terminology and relationships. See attached document (20 min)

7. Have students share out their answers to the discussion questions on the handout. (5 min)

8. Watch MyHero film (10 min): Laguna BlueBelt

9. Guided Discussion Questions:

● What role do Marine Protected Areas play in the sustainability of local coastal ecosystems?

● Why do Marine Protected Areas Exist? What role have humans played in harming the ocean ecosystem?

● How do you think humans can help conserve these threatened ecosystems?

**Note: Discussion could start as break out groups of 5 or less students before larger group discussion.

Provide any feedback based on observations.



Review major concepts and essential question



Adapted from the SIOP Model by Echevarria, Vogt and Short, 2008

Created by Lauren Fieberg, Sage School (revised 2020)








Organizer created on 7/23/2020 10:32:36 AM by Laura Nietzer

Last edited 7/23/2020 1:43:07 PM by Laura Nietzer