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Biosphere, Climate, Hydrosphere, Oceans



In 1497 John Cabot explored the North American continent for the King of England. The purpose of his voyage -- in competition with Spain -- was to find other routes to the East. Where he wound up is somewhat of a mystery. He was likely near Nova Scot, but the exact location is still debated by historians. He reported that the waters near the shore were so full of fish that it was difficult to sail his vessel. He was amazed that just lowering a basket would fill it with fish. He was hailed as a hero when he returned to England. A year later he was outfitted with another expedition; he set off to expand on his explorations but was never heard from again.

In the 17th Century, the British, wanting to profit from cod fishing, filled their ships off of the New England coast. Soon the Pilgrims were also fishing after American Indians showed them how to catch fish and make use of the uneaten parts. Eventually fishing stations were established along the New England coast. Soon the fisheries were shipping cured fish to Europe and cod fishing promoted wealth.

As with most commodities, new techniques and equipment provided for increases in cod catches throughout the 1950s. In 1951, super-trawlers such as the Fairtry increased catches significantly. These ships provided for processing and freezing the cod caught at sea. The cod catch in 1968 was 810,000 tons, three times more than the highest catches before the super-trawlers. In 1976, the Mangnuson Act created the exclusion zone (200 miles around the U.S.), prohibiting foreigners from fishing U.S. waters. This act opened the door for an expansion of American fishing and further depleting cod populations.

In 1992, a moratorium was declared on Northern Cod fishing by the Canadian government. Today, hard times are faced for cod fishermen in New England as federal restrictions in the U.S. limit their catch. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) limits fish catches in the Gulf of Maine to four millions pounds or a 22 percent decrease from 2011.

The story of North Atlantic cod may simply be the poster child for the entire seafood population. Among ocean species on the brink, are Bluefin Tuna, Sea Turtles, Right Whales, Atlantic Salmon, Abalone, Dolphins, and Albatross. But there have been success stories as NOAA reports six fish populations brought to healthy numbers. This includes Atlantic coast summer flounder and Gulf of Maine haddock.

Today most of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, creating a trade deficit of $10.4 billion, second only to oil imports for natural products. Aquaculture may be one solution to decreasing wild fish stocks. NOAA estimates that rebuilt fisheries have the potential of adding over $30 billion to the U.S. economy and providing some 500,000 new jobs.



Today marine reserves set aside portions of the ocean as a conservation measure to allow for biodiversity and replenishment of wild fish stocks. An example is the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, an area encompassing 6,094 square miles of ocean and at its deepest point, reaching down 12,713 feet. A similar marine reserve has been proposed for the Coral Sea. As marine biologists studying the proposed reserve, your Earth system analysis will provide additional recommendations upon which policy makers can act.


As the percentage and rate of species loss has increased globally, some researchers have looked closely at the impact of losing predators in the food web. Some estimate that 90 percent of all top marine predators have been lost. Examples of predators include sharks, tuna and billfish. Losing these predators results in a trophic cascade or impact to the food web. Research is still being conducted in this area as the full impact of tropic cascades brought about by predator loss is unknown. Your group has been working as interns to a NOAA research group. This group has asked you to analyze a typical scenario that involves the depletion or loss of a predator of your choice. Your analysis needs to consider the decline or loss of the predator and the impact to the system. Recommendations as to how to alleviate or ameliorate the impact are also requested.


Date: 5/29/2012

Scenario Images:

NOAA Fishwatch U.S. Seafood
From the NOAA Fishwatch Web Site.

Bluefin tuna
A School of endangered Bluefin tuna. Image courtesy of NOAA.

Winter flounder in eelgrass habitat. Image courtesy NOAA.



'The Ocean of Life' -- And the Sorrow Beneath the Sea (Cycle A)
Based on the Callum Roberts' book The Ocean of Life , this article discusses changes to marine life. The article provides links to threatened species and lists reasons for a decline in sea life.


A NOAA Website, Fishwatch (Cycle A)
"FishWatch provides easy-to-understand science-based facts to help you make smart sustainable seafood choices." See also NOAA's Office of Sustainable Fisheries.


Impact of Losing Top Predators (comprehensive) (Cycle A)
Summary of research into this vital area from Lenfest Ocean program.


Overfished and under protected: Oceans on the brink of collapse. (Cycle A)
Article from CNN on the state of fish stocks worldwide. The article also addresses coral reefs and ocean acidification.


Seafood Crisis: Time for a Sea Change (Cycle A)
This National Geographic article discusses our appetite for seafood and the impact of commercial fishing.


Sustainable Fishing from the Monterey Bay Aquarium (Cycle A)
There are links to issues in seafood management plus a guide on what fish to eat to support sustainable fish populations.


Wicked Tuna (Cycle A)
A National Geographic special on the Bluefin Tuna. There are many other links to sustainable fishing. See also this National Geographic video on declining fish.


Ecological Extinction and Evolution in the Brave New Ocean (Cycle B)
Discussion of the impacts affecting marine life with a good description of "The occurrence of trophic cascades linked to the phenomenon of fishing down the food web. By Jeremy B. C. Jackson, Scripps Institution of Oceanography.


Key Concepts in Sustainable Fishing (Cycle B)
This website points out the fish choices we make and their impact on the food chain. Key question: what if one level of the fish food chain is taken out due to overfishing? (Note: this link seemed to work only using Internet Explorer).


Only 50 Years of Fish Left? (Cycle B)
This is a BBC article that discusses the fish population crisis. It suggests addressing biodiversity as a means of protecting fish.


Predators as Prey (comprehensive) (Cycle B)
Why healthy oceans need sharks.


The Global Ocean Legacy Project (Cycle B)
Sponsored by the Pew Environmental Trust, this project aims to establish a worldwide system of large protected marine reserves.


The MarineBio Conservation Society (Cycle B)
A website dedicated to marine life awareness. This site contains multiple links to other articles.


Example of a Well-Developed PBL or Case Study (Cycle C)
Perusing this module will give you really good ideas about how to set up a PBL lesson. This module, Tales of the Riverbank, has college students investigating what is killing fish in the Coley River. This all comes from the University of Hull and University of Plymouth, UK. Click on problem/inquiry-based learning, then on "Tales of the Riverbank." Your materials will come in a zip file.


Sample Investigations:


A NOAA Estuarine Water Quality Unit (Cycle A)
This unit on water quality is from the NOAA NODE project that makes use of data in the classroom. Students study dissolved oxygen, salinity, spawning of Atlantic Sturgeon then design their own investigation using real data.
Difficulty: beginner


Fisheries Sustainability (9-12) (Cycle A)
A National Geographic site (in BETA) with a unit on fisheries sustainability. Contains pre-assessment,videos, concept mapping, investigation and reflection.
Difficulty: beginner


Project Wild Activities (Cycle A)
This pdf contains many activities for the classroom related to fish conservation.
Difficulty: beginner


Sustainable Tomorrow: A Teachers' Guidebook for Applying systems Thinking to environmental Educat... (Cycle A)
From the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agency: "Built upon current systems thinking research and pedagogy, this guidebook is intended to help environmental educators further their own understanding of systems thinking tools and concepts, as well as to offer easy-to-implement ways they can weave systems thinking into their existing environmental education lessons." This guidebook would be a useful resource as students investigate issues about fish.
Difficulty: beginner


Marine Migration (9-12) (Cycle B)
A National Geographic lesson (in BETA) on human impacts on the migratory habits and biogeography of marine animals.
Difficulty: beginner


Project WILD Aquatic K-12 Curriculum and Activity Guide Student Pages (Cycle B)
A 53 page pdf containing multiple activities involving marine science.
Difficulty: beginner


A Cornucopia of Lesson Plans and Activities on Fish and Marine Environments (Cycle C)
Many links related to marine environments and fish, e.g., wild salmon, overfishing, leatherback turtles, and pilot whales.
Difficulty: beginner


Install a Habitat in Your Schoolyard (Cycle C)
From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a project for schools to install a habitat. Includes a wetland.
Difficulty: beginner


Marine Protected Areas (9-12) (Cycle C)
Investigating protected areas. Includes use of Google Earth, discussions, comparing marine and terrestrial protected areas.
Difficulty: beginner




  • Science
    National Science Education Standards - Science Content Standards The science content standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K-12 education.
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
      • Life Science (Std C)
        • Populations and ecosystems
        • Diversity and adaptations of organisms
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Populations, resources, and environments
        • Science and technology in society
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
      • Life Science (Std C)
        • Interdependence of organisms
        • Behavior of organisms
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Population growth
        • Natural resources
        • Environmental quality
      • History and Nature of Science (Std G)
        • Nature of scientific knowledge
  • Mathematics
    Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), 2000 This set of Standards proposes the mathematics concepts that all students should have the opportunity to learn. Each of these ten Standards applies across all grades, prekindergarten through grade 12. Even though each of these ten Standards applies to all grades, emphases and expectations will vary both within and between the grade bands (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12). For instance, the emphasis on number is greatest in prekindergarten through grade 2, and by grades 9-12, number receives less instructional attention. Also the total time for mathematical instruction will be divided differently according to particular needs in each grade band - for example, in the middle grades, the majority of instructional time would address algebra and geometry.
      Mathematics instructional programs should foster the development of number and operation sense so that all students—
      • understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems;
      Mathematics instructional programs should include attention to patterns, functions, symbols, and models so that all students—
      • use symbolic forms to represent and analyze mathematical situations and structures;
      Mathematics instructional programs should include attention to measurement so that all students—
      • understand attributes, units, and systems of measurement;
      Mathematics instructional programs should include attention to data analysis, statistics, and probability so that all students—
      • pose questions and collect, organize, and represent data to answer those questions;
      • interpret data using methods of exploratory data analysis;
      • develop and evaluate inferences, predictions, and arguments that are based on data;
      Mathematics instructional programs should use communication to foster understanding of mathematics so that all students—
      • organize and consolidate their mathematical thinking to communicate with others;
  • Geography
    Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 1994
      Geography studies the relationships between people, places, and environments by mapping information about them into a spatial context. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective
      • How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth’s surface
      Physical processes shape Earth’s surface and interact with plant and animal life to create, sustain, and modify ecosystems. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on Earth’s surface
      The physical environment is modified by human activities, largely as a consequence of the ways in which human societies value and use Earth’s natural resources, and human activities are also influenced by Earth’s physical features and processes. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
      • How human actions modify the physical environment
  • Technology
    The International Society for Technology Education From and
      • Students are proficient in the use of technology.
      • Students use technology tools to enhance learning, increase productivity, and promote creativity.
      • Students use productivity tools to collaborate in constructing technology-enhanced models, prepare publications, and produce other creative works.
      • Students use telecommunications to collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences.
      • Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources.
      • Students use technology resources for solving problems and making informed decisions.
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