Coastal Ecosystems

Estuarine Ecosystems

March 10, 2011, 7:06 am


This activity (obtained from NOAA) is intended to introduce students to some sources of information about the National Estuarine Research Reserve System and applied research projects that are part of NERRS. In addition, students will learn some background information on estuaries and gain practice in reading and interpreting scientific reports.


Students will describe the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, and will explain how to obtain information on the 26 sites in the System, including the research projects undertaken at these sites. Students will also explain how a biological organism can be used to detect excess nutrient inputs to estuaries. Finally, students will interpret technical data to make predictions about the distribution of nutrients in specific estuaries.


This activity can be completed within one 45-minute class period, plus time for student research. Students may complete the activity individually or in groups of 3-4 students.



Background information on estuaries and National Estuarine Research Reserves.

Copies of “Natural Laboratories Student Worksheet” (one copy for each student or student group)

Links to resources useful for student research:

Ocean literacy essential principles and fundamental concepts

Optional: Computers with Internet access; if students do not have access to the Internet, direct them to local library resources, and/or download copies of materials cited under “Learning Procedure” (see "Teaching Notes" section below) and provide copies of these materials to each student or student group 




Click here to download the learning procedure.



Students may test their knowledge through classroom discussions and completion of the worksheet provided.


REFERENCES AND RESOURCES – NOAA’s Estuary Tutorial, with an annotated roadmap to resources. – Information on education programs offered at National Estuarine Research Reserve sites, including curricula, Powerpoint presentations, and lesson plans.– The CICEET Project Explorer, which provides a visually-stimulating and user-friendly way to experience the CICEET project database. – Games and activities about estuaries produced through the National Estuary Program. – “Estuary-Net Project;” an online project to develop collaborations among high schools, community volunteer water quality monitoring groups, local officials, state Coastal Zone Management (CZM)  programs and National Estuarine Research Reserves  (NERRS) to help solve non-point source pollution problems in estuaries and their watersheds.



Spindel, H. (2011). Estuarine Ecosystems. Retrieved from


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