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Environmental report for marine or limnological studies

by Joseph Schnierlein, Norwalk, CT

Type of Activity: A combination of hands-on, inquiry lab, group/cooperative learning, and off-site activity.

Target Group: High School environmental studies (Jr.and Sr.), but could be modified for middle school.

Background information:

This activity involves visiting a study area 2 or 3 times. The students are required to write a report after the last visit including what is listed below. Prior to the report, students spend two to three periods in the field, and usually an equal amount of 45 minute periods back in the lab doing identifications of specimens and the calculations that are required. If students are sincere, this information may become part of a database for your community or state.

Preparation time:

Preparation time varies depending on the student level, class chemistry and backgrounds, the equipment you have, and the proximity to the study area. It could take 5 periods or longer to prepare the students. Materials needed: Parental permission slips, transportation to and from work study area, life jackets if students enter the water, waders, meter sticks, testing equipment for oxygen, salinity and pH, seines, plankton nets, secchi disks, jars or zip lock bags to put specimens in, line level and 100 ft. line, Beaufort's scale, compass(es), notebooks and field guide book for mollusks, fish, birds, etc. Aerial photographs and topographic maps may be useful on site or in the classroom to "see" nearby influential factors.

Method of evaluation:

Each area listed has a specific number of tasks that are to be performed, and the grade is based on the percentage of what was accomplished. For example, in General Description, there might be 30 items that you see that should be included, therefore each item becomes 1 point. If a student missed doing the seine on one trip, yet, filled in 82 other pieces of information, that would score him or her a 27 on the data (82/90 x 30).

Marine Biology Field Trip Notes and Reports

Each student who participates in the Marine Biology Field trips will work with preselected lab partners. Each partner will be responsible for the equipment they share the use in, and recording the data their group has assigned them. At the end of each lab experience, each partner should have a completed data sheet, as well as the necessary information to write the following report, which is a primitive environmental impact statement.

At the end of an investigation into an area, i.e.. Calf Pasture, or Harborview Salt Marsh, EACH STUDENT WILL SUBMIT A COMPLETED REPORT CONTAINING: one general description, 3 data sheets, one map, analysis of each data sheet, one section on errors, and a conclusion. Only the data sheets and possibly the map should be identical for all members of the group.

The purpose of each lab experience is to observe and record the life forms present in each habitat, where they live within the habitat, and the organisms' possible role in that habitat. Students must bend over and look at what is under them, as well as what is around them. This will test their powers of observation, as well as their communication skills. Students then organize their information and present it in report form resembling an environmental impact statement.

To be successful, one must be a participant in all activities, this is not a spectator sport. Know your job at the work site and check equipment before leaving. Help your partners if you finish early.



To do a lab efficiently, use the following format. Careful consideration should be given to the point value of each area. This should represent many days of work.


The general description should paint a picture to someone not familiar to the area or weather the day of the lab. Start observations in a specific direction (i.e.. North) and state direction, distances and quantities. It should include:

  • Exact geographic location where the lab took place: i.e. Calf Pasture beach, Norwalk CT.
  • The type of area: salt march, sandy beach, gravely beach
  • Size of the area you're working in: i.e., 2 acres, 40 acres
  • Type of vegetation: i.e., trees, eel grass, fucus, weeds
  • Approximate percentage of area that is covered by the vegetation
  • Seasonal water conditions
  • Weather conditions of the day
  • Nearby environmental factors: i.e. housing, factories, roads, migratory birds or animals, marinas, boats or many people.
  • Nearby streams, harbors, parks, parking lots, etc.
The major objective is to have someone paint a picture of the area after your description. 30 points!


The data is the information you were instructed to record on your data sheets. Data should be accurately and neatly recorded, however you should not rewrite the data in paragraph form. ONLY INCLUDE YOUR COMPLETED DATA SHEETS. Graphs of the data are strongly encouraged. A map of the area must be included. The map must show: work area, north directional, surrounding factors such as major buildings or fences, land marks, approximate distances a scale and a grid: see map. The map is worth 5 points of Data. 30 points.


After all the data has been compiled, you should evaluate what this data means. Going over each piece of information gathered, you should state whether it is normal or abnormal. If it is abnormal, what bearing does it have on the environment or your report, i.e.: could a ring have entered L.I.S.? You may simply state that all the information given on "day one" was normal except for ___________ which indicates ____________ 20 points!


Everyone makes errors. Hopefully the difference education can make is that you realize you made an error, and can do something about it. It is also important to understand that many "errors" lead to scientific discoveries! If you made errors while doing the lab this is your chance to redeem yourself. You must state what the error was, and what affect it had on your ability to complete the lab.

For example, suppose one day you forgot to check a test kit before entering the field. At the site a chemical was missing and the oxygen test could not be performed. The same day no fish were caught. You must state that you forgot to check the equipment, leaving behind, "standard sodium thiosulfate solution. Without the solution you could not do the oxygen test, and therefore could not conclude whether the absence of fish was due to a lack of oxygen, food, light or migration habits."

In your first lab, this may be a long section. Hopefully as the year goes on it will get shorter. 15 points!


This should indicate your feelings on the well-being of the area you've been working in. Is it healthy, or not? WHY? What do you feel the future is for the area? Is it improving, or getting worse? Base your conclusions on observation, not hearsay! CAUTION!!! Do not wave environmentalists' or industrialists' flags unless you can substantiate your statements. 5 points!

All lab reports must be neatly written, stapled or bound and represent the several weeks you have to accomplish the finished product. The reports will be expected on or before the due date. Assembling the finished product the class period it is due will not be tolerated. If it delays collection - it will be deemed late. 10 points for each day it is late!

SAMPLE MAP - a sample of what your map should look like. (Include a sample map here.)

ORGANISM IDENTIFICATION LIST (what you should be seeing!)

(Attach a list of organisms that you think the students should find in the habitat you are investigating. Over the years, you can compile a long list and compare to previous years.)


Location:______________________________ Date:___/___/___ Time:______P.M./A.M.

Air Temp: ___oF/C Water Temp: Surface ___oF/C depth ______depth____

Cloud Conditions:______________________ Precipitation:_____________

Wind Vel.____mph. Wind out of_______ Fetch____mi.

Tide:_________ outgoing/incoming

Wave height:_____ft. Wave period: ____/min. Wave length ____ft/m

Beach slope:___ft./____ft.(rise/run) Beach type:____________


WATER CHEMISTRY: Map Location:____

  surface  Depth ___ ft.Depth ___ ft.Depth ___ ft.

SEDIMENt SIZE Map Location:_____

Sieve# 1 ___% Sieve# 2 ___% Sieve# 3 ___% Sieve# 4___% Sieve # 5 ___%

SEINE: Length of net:___ft.   depth of net: ___ft.   length of tow:___ft.

    vol. of water sampled: ______cu.ft.(l of net x depth of net x l of tow = v)

    Map Location:____

    List Genus, species and Quantity of specimens captured

Fish Arthropods Mollusk & Miscellaneous

SECCHI DISK: _______ft./m. Map Location: _______

PLANKTON NET: Length of tow ___ft./m. diameter of net: ___ in./cm.

Volume of water sampled: ___cu.ft /m. (length x ) Map Location:_____

Specimens captured and identified: (attempt to identify at least 5 species)

_______________ _______________ _______________ ________________

FIELD INVESTIGATIONS: state Genus, species and quantity: attempt to find 3 of each

Birds Arthropods Mollusks Vegetation

Partners for this Lab were:
PartnerAssigned Tasks:

General Description Information: state direction and distance or map location
Aquaculture beds:Marina(s):Factories:
Roads/Parking lotsHouse(s):Pollution sources
Island(s):River(s) or stream(s):Litter:
Shipping Vessels and boats:
Notes on anything pointed out during the trip:

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