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Activities and Curricula for Estuary Studies

Estuaries are excellent places to see some basic concepts and phenomena of physical and biological science in action. Some simple, safe, and inexpensive hands-on activities can be used in classrooms (or even at home) to investigate these concepts and phenomena, and sample curricula are also provided here to link them together to illustrate broader ideas and techniques (e.g. measurement, experimental design, observation, recording, sharing of data, scientific method, etc.). Thus there are two mutually reinforcing goals:

  • use the phenomena observed in the estuary to illustrate and motivate learning of basic science
  • use knowledge and understanding of basic science to motivate and enable stewardship of the estuary environment

Sample Curricula

One suggested logical order of activities to build understanding of estuary science might be e.g.:

  • create a model estuary and relate it to a geographical overview (such as a harbor chart, for example)
  • create a mini-aquarium with salt water, brine shrimp, and algae in a salad-bar container, and relate to estuary environments; start long-term observation; create salt water; study the dissolving process itself (how does the salt vanish?) and properties (density, conductivity, buoyancy), and theorize
  • model the theories (atomic, kinetic) with molecule models, and practice the Scientific Method to predict further observations; design experiments, and test hypotheses
  • observe the aquaria in microscopic detail, and relate modelling of photosynthesis and respiration to the materially closed system of the aquarium, with new energy coming in


The South Street Seaport Museum has in-school education programs of varying lengths and focus. Three representative programs are listed here: