The Sea Creatures That Live Beside Us & The Ocean - It’s More Important Than You Think!

by Jeremy Hackett
February 2009

This month’s newsletter includes two articles on the same topic: the science of exploring the ocean. The first article is geared at younger children and the second at older students. The articles were written by Jeremy Hackett, a Smart Tutor Referrals tutor. Jeremy has a Masters of Science in Microbiology and has spent many years teaching students about the ocean.

The Sea Creatures That Live Beside Us

Did you know that you live in one of the most amazing places in the world to easily study the animals that live in the ocean? When I first arrived in Victoria fifteen years ago I was amazed about what was here in the ocean right beside Victoria!

Why is it so important to introduce young children to the the ocean and study it? Well, the first answer that comes to mind is that the ocean supplies a lot of our food, mostly fish and shellfish which are very good sources of protein. It also supplies us with a lot of other products like seaweed (used in making ice cream) and even medicines.

However, it is important to understand that there is not an endless supply of food in the ocean – we have to look after it, keep it healthy and protect it from pollution and overfishing so that others can continue to enjoy it.

We are so lucky to have the ocean right on our “doorstep”! This means that we can go right down to the ocean in Victoria and study it ourselves or ask our teachers to help us get involved with some of the wonderful programs offered to the local school districts.

So, how do you get started studying the ocean? Well, because the moon affects the tides that flow in and out everyday, it is best to go and visit the ocean on days close to a full moon.

It is on those days that you will get the lowest tides and when you will see some of the most amazing creatures that live in this amazing marine world. One great place to go is Clover Point (on the waterfront), because when the tide is low there is lots to see.

Bring a pair of boots, a large magnifying glass, a large basin, a camera (or paper and colors), a field guide, and go creature hunting. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER IS TO BE CAREFUL WHERE YOU WALK - there are animals everywhere, large ones and tiny ones; you do not want to crush them by stepping on them! Also, if you turn over a rock, put it back the way you found it very gently after you have looked underneath it. Why? Because that is the animal’s house and you do not want to wreck it.

So what will you find? Well, right down close to the ocean at the low tide mark you can find animals like sea cucumbers, decorator crabs, purple starfish, sea squirts, sponges, eels, rockfish and Dungeness crabs. Also under the kelp (seaweed) and attached to it you may find fish eggs. Decorator crabs are fun and one of my favorites because they dress themselves up in seaweed of different colors. Further up the beach from the low tide mark, at the intertidal zone, you can find barnacles, mussels (shellfish), sandhoppers, sand worms and lots, lots more. It is also lots of fun to look in the rock pools where you will see the barnacles actually feeding with their long feathery arms, the hermit crabs rushing around and the sea anemones watching the world go by! The nice thing about exploring the rock pools is that they are like little worlds in themselves that change each time the tide comes up and covers them. If you decide to put an animal in your basin of seawater, make sure the water in the basin does not get warm, and cover it with a piece of kelp to keep the animals sheltered.

The Ocean - It’s More Important Than You Think!

Do you know that nearly 70% of the world is made up of ocean? That is about 360 million square kilometres! Also, approximately 95% of the world’s oceans are unexplored. In fact we know more about outer space than we do about our world’s oceans!

Do you ever wonder about how important the ocean is to our world? It is hugely important and has an enormous influence on our lives! Probably one of the most important influences the ocean has on our world is on our climate; climate change has and will continue to be a major item in the news. The earth’s ocean and atmosphere are locked in such an intricate embrace -- as one changes so changes the other. At the interface between air and sea, there is a constant flow of information, as vast amounts of energy and chemicals (in the form of gases and aerosols) are continually being exchanged. If energy and chemicals are the languages that program the behavior of atmosphere and ocean, then regional and global scale climate variations are the outputs from this complex system. If scientists could learn to better interpret the “dialogue” between ocean and atmosphere, they could do a better job of predicting regional and global climate change.

Another area of great importance is the health of our ocean which includes both the health of the ocean itself and the animals that live in it. Let’s bring this to a local level. A good example of this that is close to Victoria is that it has recently been observed that there are fewer Orcas coming along our coast and there are fewer young Orcas surviving to adulthood. Why? No one knows for sure but there are a number of data collection programs ongoing to monitor the health of the ocean.

So what can students do to help measure the health of the ocean in our local area? One interesting, attainable and fun project for students is to do field trips to the ocean to study the marine life as a biological indicator of health, at the low tide, mid tide and high tide areas. This can be done simply and as a fun school project by doing beach transects and observing, identifying and counting marine animals. If this is done over a period of time very useful data can be collected which will contribute significantly to monitoring the health of our ocean in our local community.

This type of project not only allows students to learn more about the animals that live in our marine environment but also teaches them good data collection techniques and will provide useful data on the health of the marine life and therefore the ocean.

There are also different groups that students can join which will allow them to learn lots more about marine biology and help in marine life conservation.

School Programs: One excellent marine-related school program is Seaquaria in the schools, where a seaquarium is placed in the school in a central location. The students get to observe, learn about the marine animals in the aquarium and also look after the aquarium. This excellent program is now in at least twenty five schools in the Saanich school district

Also the Ecorowing program organized by the Sea Change Marine Conservation Society is a really great outdoor program offered to middle schools. Students spend time at Esquimalt Lagoon where they take marine samples and get to study them under the microscope in a lab. They also get to row a rowing eight shell and learn some of the history of the First Nations in the area.