To Fish or Not to Fish?

The lab activity described here was created by Erin Bardar and Sarah L. Hill 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 learn about 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. Students watch short videos and read about challenges of new MPAs in the area as well as about Cabo Pulmo, which has been an MPA since 1995.

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 challenges for beginning and continuing MPAs.

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 investigation, they will learn about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and explore the Gulf of California.

The entire investigation takes one to two 50- to 60-minute class periods.

Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

In Part A of this lab, students learn about the basics of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by reading The Analysis of U.S. MPAs (Acrobat (PDF) 1MB Jul13 20). Students also browse through a U.S. MPA map 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. Students will watch several short videos about the area and read about it through several links as well. They will learn about the MPAs that are getting started in the Gulf as well as the established Cabo Pulmo National Park and MPA. The videos and readings help students identify challenges with starting MPAs as well as continuing them.

Printable Materials

  • Activity Sheet ( and )

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students who have completed Lab 3B should be able to consider the IEA loop and what subjects in the readings and videos would be considered stakeholders, indicators, etc.

For inland students, consider letting students decide what the nearest MPA is for Part A's task of looking at a U.S. MPA and see what they come up with or instruct them to choose MPAs nearest to somewhere more coastal than their town.


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

Content Extension