Our STEM core curriculum consists of seagrass, mangrove, and coral reef ecology field trips. Each program includes a visit to these three bottom communities. Evening discussions on coral reef ecology, field identification of reef fish, invertebrate diversity, and plankton are also part of our core activities. Click on the name of the discussion/field trip component below to get a full description of these core activities. During an extended program, teachers may add other field trips and evening activities. Most of our activities have corresponding "Advanced" versions, for high school AP and Honors classes.

MarineLab has correlated these components to the curriculum standards of all 50 states and the National Science Education Standards. Please contact the office at coordinator@marinelab.org to request a copy of the correlated standard for YOUR state and grade level!

CORE: Seagrass Ecology Discussion & Field Trip

The discussion focuses on the importance of a healthy seagrass community, threats facing seagrasses, and familiarization with about 50 of the organisms associated with this area. Proper snorkeling techniques are also shown. Students are then taken to a seagrass flat to snorkel in this commercially crucial habitat where spiny lobsters, stone crabs, and baitfish are numerous. Usually this is the first field trip in the program, so students' first snorkeling experience is in the calmer waters of the seagrass areas. In some programs, the seagrass and mangrove field trips are combined.

ADVANCED Seagrass Ecology: The advanced version of the Seagrass Ecology discussion includes instruction on using a quadrat and transect line to do seagrass.

Mangrove boat trip

CORE: Mangrove Ecology Field Trip

Mangroves form a biologically rich and environmentally crucial transition zone between land and sea. On the way to the mangrove creek snorkeling site, instructors discuss the importance of the mangrove community. At the site, students explore the intricate, fascinating world of life on and among the mangrove prop roots. Instructors collect small invertebrates for further examination and discussion back aboard the boat. In some programs, the seagrass and mangrove field trips are combined.

ADVANCED Mangrove Ecology Field Trip: Includes using a corer to take a sample of sediment from a red mangrove community and black mangrove community. Students analyze the samples, including analyzing pore water for DO, pH, salinity, and ammonia.

CORE: Coral Reef Ecology Discussion & Field Trip

The Coral Reef Ecology discussion precedes the first trip to the coral reef. It includes information on the biology of reef-building corals, the abiotic parameters necessary for reef formation, types of corals, reef preservation, and snorkeling etiquette. Students are then taken about four to five miles offshore to snorkel on a variety of coral reefs, such as Key Largo Dry Rocks, Grecian Rocks, and Molasses Reef.

ADVANCED: There are two Advanced Coral Reef Ecology discussions. One is our basic Coral Reef Ecology discussion with the addition of a discussion on identifying bleached corals and getting familiar with the protocols used by Bleachwatch to report such bleached corals. The subsequent field trip includes searching for, identifying and reporting bleached corals. The second Advanced Coral Reef Ecology discussion expands on the basic Coral Reef Ecology program, providing more information on abiotic influences on reef formation. Back to top


CORE: Field Identification of Reef Fish Discussion

This discussion is an interactive presentation on fish morphology, habitat, and behavior and provides students with the "field marks" needed to identify a fish. With drawn visual aids and slides of local fish, students practice their identification skills prior to their second snorkeling trip to the reef.

ADVANCED Field Identification of Reef Fish: This program adds the identification protocol used by Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) in their Fish Counts. Students become Level 2 Surveyors after passing the test and conducting two surveys. Fish count results are submitted to REEF.

Invertebrate DiversityCORE: Invertebrate Diversity Lab

Students collect an algae covered rock from the beach off MarineLab and take it into the lab to "shake" it into a tub of seawater. The various free-swimming and sessile creatures and plants are identified and classified into phyla. The biological significance of diversity is discussed.

ADVANCED: Diversity Indexing Lab, AP

This expanded version of our Invertebrate Diversity Lab takes that lab one step further: counting species and developing a Simpson's diversity index for the target algae-covered rock and extrapolating the data to calculate a diversity index for Largo Sound. The instructor concludes with a discussion of why the index may be different, the negatives and positives of using diversity indices, and its applicability to other habitats. Depending on time and type of program, students may compute Simpson's Index in other marine habitats they visit during their program, such as Rodriguez Key. Back to top

PhytoplanktonCORE: Zooplankton Identification Lab

This lab is microscope intensive! Staff collect zooplankton in the evening. Students investigate under the microscope, and representive plankton are shown to the whole group on a large screen television, classified and identified.

ADVANCED Harmful Algae Blooms and Phytoplankton Identification Lab

Higher level students can learn about the different types of phytoplankton and their effects on the environment by creating Harmful Algae Blooms (HABS). Students will actually identify phytoplankton from a Largo Sound collection. MarineLab is part of the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network, and the data is submitted to them for use in monitoring for these HABS.

RodKeyRodriguez Key Zonation

Rodriguez Key is just offshore of Key Largo and features an interesting bottom community that is based on the coralline algae Goniolithon. Students snorkel the area and instructors collect large chunks of the Goniolithon. Back at the boat, students break up the algae to find and identify the invertebrates inside. The second stop on this field trip is usually to a patch reef community, populated with tropical fish and smaller corals, sea whips, and sea rods, or a small wreck with resident nurse sharks, rays, and balloonfish.

ADVANCED Students can derive a diversity index from the organisms collected at Rodriguez Key, and compare it to the index previously derived from the diversity indexing lab. Back to top


Water Quality Lab

During this lab, students will be taught about the importance of abiotic conditions such as water quality parameters (salinity, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, ammonia, and clarity), the healthy levels for water quality parameters, and techniques for measuring water quality parameters. Students will then get the opportunity to use the instruments to test water quality of four different samples of water, representing four different bodies of water (North Sea, South Sea, Key Largo drinking water, MarineLab fish tank). The measurements from the water samples will then be compared and explained. Water quality testing is done in the field at field trip sites and the data is recorded. MarineLab is part of the GLOBE program and field sample results are uploaded to their database.

ADVANCED This version of the water quality lab allows more advanced students to test for a wider range of parameters. This lab will provide AP students more insight on the abiotic conditions of various habitats, a more in-depth understanding of water quality parameters regularly measured in water quality studies, and give these students greater exposure to scientific tools used to test for water quality. MarineLab has acquired more advanced meters and probes, including a YSI 556MPS with probes for temperature, salinity/conductivity, DO, and pH. Water quality measurements collected in Florida Bay by AP level students are submitted to Florida International University as part of an ongoing study conducted by the Southeast Environmental Research Center's Water Quality Monitoring Network.

Introduction to Keys Habitats/Summary

These are two separate powerpoint discussions. The Keys Habitats discussion is at the beginning of the program, outlining the main habitats that make up the Keys, where these habitats are located and how the abiotic components of each habitat influce the biotic components. The Summary powerpoint will be presented at the end of the trip to review any data collected during the stay (water quality and/or Cassiopeia Culturing Lab), discuss the ecology of habitats visited and why diversity varied at these locations. Required field trips include Seagrass, Mangrove, and Coral Reef Ecology, while supplementary trips are Rodriguez Key zonation, Hardbottom Shoal Ecology, Keys Survey and Backcountry. Required Labs are Invertebrate Diversity and Plankton Tow, while optional labs may be any of those listed on this page. Back to top


Sea Turtle Stranding Activity

This activity starts with a short powerpoint discussion on sea turtle species, life history, threats to their individual and group survival, and how these threats are currently being addressed. Students work in groups acting as members of the Cooperative Marine Turtle Tagging Program. Using lifelike scale models of injured or diseased turtles, they complete actual data forms used by CMTTP. The activity is wrapped up with a short video on actual turtle salvage and treatments. This activity may be coupled with a trip to the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL. (Photo from the Turtle Hospital).



Sponge Spicule Identification Lab

Sponges are taxonomically classified according to the composition of their skeletons and spicules. The vast majority of sponges have a skeleton made of spongin, which makes them soft and elastic. These sponges belong to the class Demospongiae and are sometimes harvested for household and commercial use. The remaining sponges either have calcium carbonate spicules (class Calcarea) or siliceous spicules (class Hexactinellida). The latter are sometimes referred to as glass sponges because their skeletons have a beautifully delicate, glass-like texture.

In this lab, the instructor begins by reviewing marine invertebrate phyla and associated common characteristics and defense mechanisms. Types of sponge spicules and functions of spicules are explained. Students will work in pairs to isolate spicules from various species of local sponges that have been dried. Spicule shapes are identified for each sponge species. Back to top

Invertebrate behavior

Invertebrate Behavior & Morphology Lab

Invertebrates make up 97% of all animal species on our planet and have existed for over 4 billion years. Over this time, they have evolved many highly unique behavior mechanisms that help them to find food and shelter, reproduce, and form social organizations. The range of invertebrate adaptations is extensive, especially compared to vertebrates (existing for only 500 million years). Each phylum of invertebrates has developed unique survival features that are shared amongst the species within that group. Narrowing it down further, each species has adapted to use these features in unique ways, depending on what niche it occupies.

Researchers investigate behavioral processes of animals for a variety of reasons. By studying animal behavior, we can learn about the relationships between them and their environments and about the internal processes that govern behavior. ( “Animal Behavior” by Drickamer, Vessey, and Meikle.)

In this lab, we will be observing specific behaviors of common marine invertebrates, comparing them to related species, and determining how each behavior contributes to the survivial of the species identified.

Hardbottom Shoal Ecology

Hardbottom habitats are isolated patches of stony boulder corals and sea rods that are home to many juvenile animals. Students will be able to view a variety of animals, including fish that are in transitional and less recognizable color phases. This trip usually includes a second stop at a patch reef. Back to top





Nest Key Seining

Nest Key is one of the few mangrove islands in Everglades National Park that people are allowed to land on. Its sandy beach area and low, scrubby mangroves are examples of yet another bottom community in the Florida Keys marine ecosystem. Using a seine net, students walk slowly through the water, capturing small fish and invertebrates. This is a common field trip alternative when the weather is too windy or cold to get out to the reef. Back to top

GatorEverglades Hydrology and Everglades National Park (land-based)

The Everglades are unique, protected, and the home to an amazing diversity of birds, reptiles, mammals and plants. A discussion of Everglades hydrology, including the wet/dry cycles and a history of man's impact on the Everglades wetlands, precedes a self-guided ground based field trip to Everglades National Park's Royal Palm Visitors Center. The boardwalks and paths there provide ringside seats and first hand observation of alligators, anhingas, and other birds and animals of the Glades. This program is primarily done in the winter time, during the dry season, to avoid mosquitoes and heat. The concentration of water during the dry season means that the animals are concentrated as well.

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Cassiopeia Culturing Laboratory

This lab begins with an introduction to Cassiopeia spp (upside-down jellyfish) and its life cycle as well as methods and issues surrounding mariculture. Students work in groups to collect embryos from Cassiopeia and place them in vials. Students monitor vials throughout the program, looking for developing planula and polyps. All data from this lab will be discussed during the Summary.


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Shark Behavior Activity

This activity is designed to provide students with a basic understanding of the adaptations, behavior, and current research on different species of sharks. This will encourage students to maintain a healthy respect for sharks and their environment. The activity is preceded by a 30 minute powerpoint presentation about shark biology. Groups of students then come up with a conclusion on shark data illustrated by a provided graph or chart, and answer corresponding research questions. Groups then present their shark and conclusions based on their graph as though they were presenting to a scientific symposium.

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Coral Restoraton Discussion & Field Trip

The reef restoration program begins with a discussion outlining natural and manmade disturbances to coral reefs, including some of the most destructive shipwrecks off the keys, active and passive reef restoration techniques, and an explanation of the coral transplantation process MarineLab partakes in with the Coral Restoration Foundation.  The students then go on a field trip to coral restoration sites on reefs off of Key Largo where the students will see newly transplanted corals as well as corals that have successfully survived a year or more after being planted.

Students who are SCUBA certified may participate in nursery maintenance and outplanting as part of a MarineLab Service Learning Program.

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Night Lagoon Snorkel

Explore the lagoon at night! Students may experience bioluminesence and see nocturnal fish and invertebrates that are hidden during the day, and see how diurnal animals protect themselves at night. Dive lights and glowsticks are provided.



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