Investigating the Shore

Activities for Schools

The students develop a list of values and ideas about beaches and other coastal areas. What makes the areas special to them? Compare the different views and discuss how these might result in common agreement or conflict in the use of the area.

Investigate the history of marine reserves in New Zealand and become a time detective to find out how well New Zealand can attain its visions of the future.

Use a field guide to identify birds, plants, or insects from your neighbourhood, river, or coastal area. Draw or photograph the most common or important ones and record their common English name, Maori name, and scientific name. Discuss why the different names reflect different cultural ways of thinking about the creature.

Select one creature - plant or animal - how many different ways can you think about the same creature? A tree, for example, can be seen as something to provide shade, or timber, or a fire, or a place for a bird to nest, or food for a termite, possum, or caterpillar, a hunting place for a cat, a fountain of water, a way of preventing soil erosion, a sexual partner of another tree, a place for bees to find pollen, something to hug, a lightning rod, something to climb, a place to hang a swing.

Go on a field trip to a Natural History or University museum and ask to see their reference collection of specimens. You can only be sure of an identification by checking it against a named specimen in a museum.

Go through an identification guide of birds, sea shore creatures, or plants and look at the common and scientific names. Look up the meaning of the Latin and Greek names (many of the words will have a close English equivalent and a big dictionary will often give the Latin or Greek definitions these words came from).

Compare the definitions of the names to the creatures. Can you discover why they were given their name? Sometimes the name indicates the geographic area or country where the creature was found, sometimes the name reflects some feature of the animal.

Examine the parts of the animal. Specialised body parts have names, too, and are often used to describe the differences between species. These specialised body parts are adaptations to a particular habitat or style of eating. Write a report showing how the function of body parts relate to a creature's lifestyle and habitat.


Field study of a creature


Plan a field project to integrate observing, mapping, and identifying to learn about a particular creature, such as a shellfish, or a bird that lives on the edge of the sea, estuary, or river.

Decide: Will the study be short-term, lasting a few hours of one day? Will you go back to the same spot again in the future to see if you can find longer cycles?

Discuss: What kinds of cycles can you see by observing a creature once for a few minutes? What else could you learn by watching it for a few minutes every three hours? Watching for a few minutes every two weeks? Every six months?

Plan: How will you select a particular creature to study? What difference does this make if you plan to study it once for a few minutes versus one you plan to study again in the future?

Select the tools: What materials will you need to be able to do the study? What instruments? If you intend to find the study plant or animal again in the future, is there some way to tag it (mark it) so you can be sure you have found the same one again? This is necessary if you plan to discover how fast it grows. How will you record your observations? A good field data sheet is often the key to a good field study. Do you have a map of the area to start with?

Make a hypothesis about the creature or its habits based on initial observations. For example, guess what a particular body part is used for or how and when the creature reproduces, or what it eats. Or you might form a hypothesis on the relationship between the amount of variability in a body feature (such as coloration) and the degree of specialisation of that feature. (the greater the variability, the less specialised the feature). Design a study to prove or disprove your hypothesis. Finally, produce a report that shows if your study found the hypothesis to be valid or not. Working as a group, the students evaluate the projects and decide if they were fair tests.

Field study of a particular habitat of the shore, estuary or river.


Go through the steps above but consider what cyclic events you would like to investigate for a habitat, such as a beach, tide pool on a rocky shore, pilings on a wharf, a wetlands area, a river bank or a special place in a mountain creek.

How will you find exactly the same place again in the future so you can see longer term cycles?

What sorts of creatures normally live in that place? Do they stay there or come and go? What creatures visit the habitat and how often? Knowing this will help determine how often to survey the site.

How do the various creatures interact with each other? How do the creatures get food? Draw a food web showing the flow of energy and nutrients through the system.

Ask older people who have lived nearby a long time if they have seen any changes in the habitat. What are the different cultural views and uses of the habitat?

Look in picture books of the area for older photographs showing the habitat you wish to study. Try and relocate exactly the same place the old photograph was taken and take a modern one from the same position and the same angle. What changes can you detect between the two images?

Look for changes in aerial photographs of the area. Photocopy the images and trace the outlines of the habitat to show changes. Is the habitat getting larger or smaller? Are homes or roads or other developments reducing the size of the habitat?

Look for changes in old survey maps or other maps that show changes in the area.

List the various threats to the habitat based on your observations.

Make projections on the future of the habitat. What will it be like in 25, 50, 100 years? What are the implications for the various species that live there? What can be done to protect the habitat?


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