Gulf of Mexico Deep Sea Habitats Education

These lesson plans focus on Gulf of Mexico deep-sea habitats.


Education Lesson Plans

The Gulf of Mexico Deep Sea Habitats expedition focuses on the occurrence and ecology of deep-water corals and their associated communities and hard- bottom reef fish and invertebrate communities in little known regions of the Gulf of Mexico. Bottom currents and geographic features will also be investigated. Scientists will deploy a remotely operated vehicle to document the exploration findings.

Educators and scientists working with NOAA during September 2003 developed a series of lesson plans for students in Grades 5–12 that are specifically tied to the Gulf of Mexico Deep Sea Habitats expedition. These lesson plans focus on cutting-edge ocean exploration and research, using state-of-the-art technologies. Lessons address chemotrophic organisms, effects of pollution on diversity in benthic communities, energy content of hydrocarbon substrates in chemosynthesis, niches in coral reef ecosystems, reproduction in Cnidaria coral, characteristics of biological communities on deep-water reef habitats, DNA analysis, energy content of hydrocarbon substrates in chemosynthesis, and growth-rate estimates based on isotope ratios.

The lesson plans are grouped into the following categories:
Grades 5-6
Grades 7-8
Grades 9-12 (chemical, biological, earth, and physical science)

Each grade-level grouping includes activities that focus on the exploration and research being conducted as part of the Gulf of Mexico Deep Sea Habitats expedition. In addition to being tied to the National Science Education Standards, the hands-on, inquiry-based activities include focus questions, background information for teachers, links to interesting Internet sites, and extensions. Web logs that document the latest discoveries and complement the lesson plans, complete with compelling images and video, will be sent back each day from sea. Teachers are encouraged to use the daily logs from the Gulf of Mexico Deep Sea Habitats expedition, which are posted on this site, to supplement the lesson plans.

All of the lesson plans are available in pdf format, and may be viewed and printed with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. To download a lesson plan, click on its title from the list below.


Grades 5-6

Keep Away (5 pages, 424k)
Focus: Effects of pollution on diversity in benthic communities (Life Science)

In this activity, students will discuss the meaning of “biological diversity” and compare and contrast the concepts of “variety” and “relative abundance” as they relate to biological diversity. Given information on the number of individuals, number of species, and biological diversity at a series of sites, students will make inferences about the possible effects of oil drilling operations on benthic communities.

Architects of the Deep Reef (5 pages, 388k)
Focus: Reproduction in Cnidaria (Life Science)

In this activity, students will be able to identify and describe at least five characteristics of Cnidaria coral, compare and contrast the four classes of Cnidaria, and describe typical reproductive strategies used by Cnidaria. Students will also be able to infer which of these strategies are likely to be used by the deep-sea coral Lophelia pertusa, and will be able to describe the advantages of these strategies.


Grades 7-8

Design a Reef! (5 pages, 408k)
Focus: Niches in coral reef ecosystems (Life Science)

In this activity, students will compare and contrast coral reefs in shallow water and deep water, describe the major functions that organisms must perform in a coral reef ecosystem, and explain how these functions might be provided in a miniature coral reef ecosystem. Students will also be able to explain the importance of three physical factors in coral reef ecosystems and infer the fundamental source of energy in a deep-water coral reef.

Let’s Go to the Video Tape! (7 pages, 552k)
Focus: Characteristics of biological communities on deep-water reef habitats (Life Science)

In this activity, students will recognize and identify some of the fauna groups found in deep-sea coral reef communities, infer possible reasons for observed distribution of groups of animals in deep-sea coral reef communities, and discuss the meaning of “biological diversity.” Students will compare and contrast the concepts of “variety” and “relative abundance” as they relate to biological diversity, and given abundance and distribution data of species, will be able to calculate an appropriate numeric indicator that describes the biological diversity of a community.


Grades 9-12

C.S.I. on the Deep Reef (Chemotrophic Species Investigations, That Is) (6 pages, 444k)
Focus: Chemotrophic organisms (Life Science/Chemistry)

In this activity, students will describe at least three chemotrophic symbioses known from deep-sea habitats and will identify and explain at least three indicators of chemotropic nutrition.

Gellin (4 pages, 372k)
Focus: DNA analysis

In this activity, students will explain and carry out a simple process for separating DNA from tissue samples, explain and carry out a simple process for separating complex mixtures, and explain the process of restriction enzyme analysis.

Hot Food (4 pages, 372k)
Focus: Energy content of hydrocarbon substrates in chemosynthesis (Chemistry)

In this activity, students will compare and contrast photosynthesis and chemosynthesis as processes that provide energy to biological communities, and given information on the molecular structure of two or more substances, will make inferences about the relative amount of energy that could be provided by the substances. Students will also be able to make inferences about the potential of light hydrocarbons as an energy source for deep-water coral reef communities.

How Does Your (Coral) Garden Grow? (6 pages, 456k)
Focus: Growth rate estimates based on isotope ratios (Life Science/Chemistry)

In this activity, students will identify and briefly explain two methods for estimating the age of hard corals, learn how oxygen isotope ratios are related to water temperature, and interpret data on oxygen isotope ratios to make inferences about the growth rate of deep-sea corals.


For More Information

Please contact Paula Keener-Chavis, National Education Coordinator for the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration if you have questions about these lesson plans or if you need additional information about their development.

Contact Paula Keener-Chavis,
Director, Education Programs
NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration

Other lesson plans developed for this Web site are available in the Education Section.