Marine Protected Area Lesson Plan: Middle School

Learn about marine protected areas, overfishing and citizen science 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.



In addition to the My Hero film series you will need the following materials:

Goldfish or similar snack crackers (2 different kinds-preferably 2 diff. colors or


Dixie cups

Flexible drinking straws

Paper Plates


Students will need notebooks to record data




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". 



MyHero Films

Overfishing Simulation

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. How does overfishing contribute to the need for Marine Protected Areas?

4. How would regulations on fishing and Marine Protected Areas help fish populations based on what you learned from your simulation?

5. How could citizen science help researchers understand Marine Protected Areas?



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 a Marine Protected Area is accessible it would be very beneficial to perform biodiversity surveys in 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

● Ecosystem

● Conservation

● Marine Protected Area

● Overfishing



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

**Teacher Prep: While students watch the videos lay out the materials for the overfishing simulation

6. Introduce the overfishing simulation


Practice and Application

7. Have students perform the overfishing simulation: See attached lab handout. (20min)

8. Guided Discussion Questions in Lab Handout (5-10 min)

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

10. Guided Discussion Questions:

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

● Why do Marine Protected Areas Exist? How is Laguna BlueBelt a successful example of an MPA?

● How did the overfishing simulation represent a need for more MPAs?

● 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 12:29:35 PM by Laura Nietzer

Last edited 12/22/2020 11:21:58 AM by Laura Nietzer