Marine Sanctuaries

What You Need


  • Student groups will need poster board and materials to make posters
  • Overhead of map from the Marine Sanctuaries visiting page
Marine Sanctuaries Photo Credit: U.S. National Park Service, via Wikimedia Commons


To develop an understanding of diverse marine ecosystems and the problems they face.


Science in the middle grades should provide students with opportunities to enrich their growing knowledge of diversity. In this lesson, students will learn about the national marine sanctuaries found in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and off the coast of American Samoa. They include breeding and feeding grounds of whales, sea lions, sharks, and sea turtles; significant coral reefs and kelp forest habitats; and the remains of the U.S. Monitor, a Civil War ironclad sunk off the coast of North Carolina. By learning about the biodiversity, ecological integrity, and cultural legacy of these marine sanctuaries, students can place into context what they are learning about the interdependence of living things on our planet.

After being introduced to the marine sanctuaries as a class, students will work in small groups to develop posters that highlight key ideas in the benchmarks in the context of the individual marine sanctuaries.


Refer students to the image of the globe at the National Marine Sanctuaries welcome page. Ask students if they recognize any of the places highlighted on the globe. Tell students that the map shows protected areas called marine sanctuaries. Ask them to speculate about what the term marine sanctuaries might mean. Then tell them that they will find out more about the characteristics of these environments and why they are in need of protection. If any of the students in the class have been to any of these sanctuary locations, ask students to share with the class their experiences with or observations of the enviroments.


Have the class form small groups and refer them to the National Marine Sanctuaries FAQ page. Each group should read an assigned FAQ and report back to the class with a brief summary about what they learned. Then briefly discuss the following with the whole class:

  • What kinds of living things seem to be found in all of the sanctuaries?
  • What value does a marine sanctuary provide to the community?
  • What are some of the problems faced by the various ecosystems described?

Working in groups, and using the Marine Sanctuaries student sheet, students will gather information about each of the sanctuaries. Each group will create a poster of its assigned marine sanctuary and then present its information to the class. Even though students will work in groups, make sure that each student completes the student sheet in his/her own words.

Student groups should present their posters to the class. After all of the presentations have been made, display the posters around the classroom and provide students time to view the posters.


Encourage students to take notes during the presentations of the posters and as they view the displayed posters. As they do this, they should complete the Further Understanding student sheet, which asks them to describe how their sanctuary is like the others and how it might be unique or different.

Also, students should be able to describe the mission of the marine sanctuaries as they relate to the individual needs of the ecosystems they comprise. For example, the Gulf of the Farrollones is home to the largest concentration of breeding seabirds in the continental U.S. As such, it seeks to preserve these resources by managing human activities that may damage habitat and species, by supporting restoration projects to revitalize disturbed areas, and by monitoring programs that provide information to assess changes from natural and human disturbance.


The Sustainable Seas Expeditions site presents the perspective of NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary program, and is intended to provide readers with up-to-date information on the status of the project and reports from expedition participants. The principal offering on this site is the Sanctuary Log, a day-to-day account of the adventures and discoveries of expedition participants.

Ocean Explorer provides a platform to follow ocean explorations in near real-time, learn about ocean exploration technologies, observe remote marine flora and fauna in the multimedia gallery, review NOAA's 200-year history of ocean exploration, and discover additional NOAA resources in a virtual library.

At the Marine Environment Protection site, students can explore government efforts to protect marine environments, including programs to combat sea pollution and prevent damage from oil spills.

Did you find this resource helpful?

Lesson Details

Grades Themes Project 2061 Benchmarks State Standards