She Sells Seashells By The Seashore

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Lori Roberts is a high school biology teacher in Muscle
Shoals, Alabama. Lori is a leader in ocean education and is a graduate
of National Geographic Education’s two-year professional development
program, the National Teacher Leadership Academy.

The more we explore the ocean, the better we understand the need for conservation efforts. Expeditions like DEEPSEA CHALLENGE can shed light on a dark topic and hopefully make the public aware that our ocean is in trouble. I approach this topic from the bottom-up in my biology classroom. I teach trophic levels, which are the positions that organisms inhabit within food chains. The ultimate energy source for Earth is our sun, and energy flows from this source through the trophic levels: from producers, to consumers, and then to decomposers. Every link in a chain is vital to sustain life in the ocean web. I tell my students that their actions matter, that their choices have an impact. After all, we are all consumers, and consumers determine what is available in the marketplace.

Life can rebound after a natural disaster (a type of density-independent limiting factor). While on a trip to Fort Pickens National Park near Pensacola, Florida, I took a picture of an osprey on its nest. It gave me hope. Ospreys are large birds that feed almost exclusively on fish. They inhabit coastal regions, and were once on the endangered species list. The nest pictured below is at the top of the remnant of a pine tree, in what used to be a small coastal forest. This part of the Gulf Islands National Park was almost destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. The return of the osprey shows that life can rebound. But, once it is completely gone, it is history–like the dodo bird.

birdnest.jpg



My family visited a shell shop and it gave me “shell shock.” I was sad as I explained to my seven-year-old why there were so many seashells for purchase in a shop, but yet we had trouble finding one decent sized shell on the beach nearby. I conjured up an image of nets dragging the ocean floor, removing poor creatures for souvenirs in a shop. We did not make a purchase.

Talk about the need for marine protected areas with your kids. Many MPAs are “no-take zones,” meaning that resources cannot be removed, but America has very little coastline preserved in this way. I use the National Geographic Education unit on Marine Ecology, Human Impacts, and Conservation to teach about MPAs.

shells.jpg
shellboxes.jpg
sponges.jpg
shellsforsale.jpg

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It is very important that kids understand their power as
consumers. For example, there are good choices and bad choices in a seafood
restaurant. I like the seafood guide from Seafood Watch by Monterey Bay
Aquarium
. To start a conversation about sustainable seafood, try this classroom
activity:

  •  Place your students in small groups.
  •  Give them copies of sample seafood menus.
  •  Give them a copy of a seafood guide (like Seafood
    Watch
    ), or have them download a copy of the guide.
  • Give each group the task of writing a skit that
    demonstrates making a “green” seafood choice.
  • Last, have the groups perform their skits.
  • If you like healthy competition, let them vote
    on their favorite skit.

While walking on the Pensacola Beach pier, I noticed someone
struggling to bring in a fish. It was a redfish, another
symbol of success in conservation. This fish is delicious and considered a
desirable catch. Their numbers were previously low, but fisherman have worked
together to stop overfishing this species, and it has become another bright
symbol of change.

fishnet.jpgDr. Sylvia Earle said about ocean awareness, “If they did understand they might make different choices, better choices, and opt not to take creatures that may be as old as your great grandparents by the time they come to your plate.”  I hope giant clams, 200-year-old orange roughy, and 150-year-old sea turtles will not go the way of the dodo bird.

giantclam.jpg

Do you have an idea for teaching sustainability in the classroom? We want to hear about it!

-Text and photos by Lori Roberts

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