To Fish or Not to Fish?

The lab activity described here was created by Erin Bardar of TERC for the EarthLabs project.

Summary and Learning Objectives

This lab activity introduces students to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). In Part A, students read about what MPAs are, what purposes they serve, and how they are classified. In Part B, they watch the film Ocean Oasis, about one of the world's top conservation priorities, the Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortés). This tiny strip of sea has historically been one of the richest and most productive marine ecosystems in the world, but today faces many of the same threats that are destroying ocean health worldwide. The film takes students on a journey to the Sea of Cortés and Baja California peninsula with stunning images and compelling messages for the preservation of both ocean and desert.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:
  • define the term Marine Protected Area;
  • explain why MPAs are important for ecosystem and fisheries management;
  • understand how MPAs are classified;
  • identify a marine managed area near their home town; and
  • identify factors contributing to the deterioration of the Gulf of California marine ecosystem.
Open the Student Lab »

Context for Use

Having already learned some about the basics of ecosystem-based management (EBM) in Lab 3: Oh What a Tangled Web: Ecosystem-Based Management, students are prepared to learn more about specific implementations. In this lab, they will learn about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and explore the Gulf of California through the film Ocean Oasis.

This lab takes one to two 50-60 minute class periods. Part A is largely a reading activity, and can be assigned as homework. Part B requires a DVD player/TV or projection screen setup. The movie Ocean Oasis is available at The film's running time is 45 minutes, so the movie screening will take almost an entire class period.

Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

In Part A of this lab, students learn about the basics of Marine Managed Areas (MMAs) and Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by reading The State of the Nation's Marine Managed Areas (Acrobat (PDF) 1.7MB Oct10 07). Students also browse through an alphabetical list of U.S. MPAs to identify those closest to where they live, and learn about U.S. Marine Protected Area classifications (Acrobat (PDF) 442kB Jul16 19).

Part B introduces students to the Gulf of California, one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world. The activity is centered around the film Ocean Oasis, which is available for purchase on DVD from Barnes & Noble and for $14.99-$21.99 plus shipping and handling.

After watching the film, students can search through the Ocean Oasis Field Guide to learn more about the locations, flora, and fauna featured in the film.

Printable Materials

  • Activity Sheet (PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 27kB Oct5 07) and Word (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 19kB Aug7 18))

Teaching Notes and Tips

During the film, have students take notes so they will be able to answer follow-up questions.


You can assess student understanding of topics addressed in this Investigation by grading their responses to the Stop and Think questions.

State and National Science Teaching Standards

Additional Resources

Background Information

  • For more information about the challenges and successes of Marine Protected Areas, read this World Wildlife Fund (WWF) booklet (Acrobat (PDF) 4.1MB Oct5 07).
  • PISCO, the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, has prepared a booklet called The Science of Marine Reserves, which summarizes scientific information about marine reserves, including case studies from the United States.

Content Extension

  • The Ocean Oasis Teacher's Guide provides a series of activities, targeted for grades 4-8, but adaptable for higher grade levels. All activities, many of which are interdisciplinary, are designed to stand alone, and have been correlated with the National Science Education Standards. Activities may be used to prepare students for viewing the film or as a post-film experience.