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Program Components

Our STEM core curriculum consists of seagrass, mangrove, and coral reef ecology. Evening discussions on coral reef ecology & fish identification, along with labs on invertebrate diversity and zooplankton identification are also part of the core curriculum. The discussions are the same regardless of the grade level, but the content detail and delivery are adjusted to the audience. Following are short descriptions of each of our program components.

Click here for a matrix showing which components are suitable for your students' grade level and here for a summary of each component of our core curriculum. We also have a summary of advanced programs, components incorporating service learning, and programs utilizing research techniques.

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. All grades. PDF Summary

ADVANCED Seagrass Ecology: The advanced version of the Seagrass Ecology discussion includes instruction on conducting science based seagrass surveys and a full analysis of data collected. Grades 9 and above PDF Summary

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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 snorkeling site, instructors discuss the importance of the mangrove habitat and the plants' unique adaptations. 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. All grades. PDF Summary

ADVANCED Mangrove Ecology Field Trip: We add a sediment analysis lab into our basic mangrove ecology programs. Students collect sediment cores from a red and black mangrove for analysis. Grades 9 and above. PDF Summary

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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. All grades. PDF Summary

ADVANCED: There are two Advanced Coral Reef Ecology discussions, both suitable for grades 9 and above.

Advanced Coral Reef Ecology 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. PDF Summary

Coral Reef Ecology II: A Closer Look is an advanced discussion for students who have already done either our standard or advanced Coral Reef Ecology discussion. The topic expands on concepts taught during our basic program and the discussion encourages students to begin to ask questions about their coral reef observations. After a powerpoint discussion, students have the opportunity to snorkel two different coral reef sites with a checklist of specific organisms, behaviors and items to look for. PDF Summary

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CORE: Field Identification of Reef Fish Discussion & Field Trip

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. All grades. PDF Summary

ADVANCED There are two advanced fish identification options, both suitable for grades 9 and above.
The REEF Fish Survey program is an extension of our Fish ID program, using the citizen science opportunity created by Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). In addition to our core program, students will learn REEF's "Roving Diver" technique. Students will go to the reef to conduct surveys. An additional option is to have students take a fish ID quiz; if students pass the quiz they can enter data into the REEF database as Level 2 surveyors. PDF Summary

Parrotfish Feeding Survey: In addition to our core Fish ID program, students will be taught the protocols for conducting a parrotfish feeding survey. While at the reef, students will record appropriate data, all of which is sent to Dr. Deron Burkepile of the University of CA - Santa Barbara. PDF Summary

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CORE: 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. All grades PDF Summary

ADVANCED: Diversity Indexing Lab, AP Grades 9 and above. 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. PDF Summary

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CORE: 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. All grades. PDF Summary

ADVANCED Harmful Algae Blooms and Phytoplankton Identification Lab Grades 9 and above. 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. PDF Summary

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Rodriguez Key Zonation

Rodriguez Key is just offshore of Key Largo and features an interesting bottom community that is based on the coralline algae Neogoniolithon. Students snorkel the area and instructors collect large chunks of the Neogoniolithon. 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. All grades. PDF Summary

ADVANCED Grades 9 and above. 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.PDF Summary

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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. Grades 7 and above. PDF Summary

ADVANCED Grades 9 and above. This version of the water quality lab gives more advanced students 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. PDF Summary

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Introduction to Keys Habitats

The Keys Habitats discussion is an introductory class that includes an introduction to ecology as it pertains to the field trips the students will be participating in, and an overview of the marine habitats the students will be visiting. The class is meant to paint a larger picture of our waters and the interconnection of our marine habitats before students begin studying and observing each habitat individually. This introductory class is most often taught in conjuction with a "Summary" class at the end of the program. All grades PDF Summary

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This discussion is a review of all habitats students have snorkeled, the organisms observed in these habitats, and the environmental conditions that influenced each community. The overall theme of marine ecology and habitat interconnectedness of the waters of the Florida Keys and water everywhere is emphasized. Any data students collected during their trip (i.e. water quality, Cassiopeia, seagrass survey, bleachwatch, REEF fish surveys, parrotfish feeding surveys, marine debris, diversity index, microplastics, phytoplankton) will be analyzed. This class is usually taught in conjunction with the introductory "Keys Habitats" class. PDF Summary

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Sea Turtle Activities

Sea Turtle Activity (Grades 5 - 6) 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. PDF Summary

Loggerhead Sea Turtle Hatching Activity (Grades 7 - 10) Following an introduction to sea turtles in Florida, students will participate in an activity to demonstrate the threats sea turtles face through their life stages. The activity will provide students with an understanding of the reasoning behind the 1 in 1000 survivorship statistic and what humans can do to assist these protected animals. This activity may be coupled with a trip to the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL. PDF Summary

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Sponge Spicule Identification Lab

Students will discuss the basic anatomy of a sponge, as well as the feeding, reproductive, and defense mechanisms that these simple organisms possess. Sponge spicule composition and function will be discussed before students dissolve various species of sponges in order to locate and identify spicules with the use of a compound microscope. Grades 8 and above. PDF Summary

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Invertebrate Behavior & Morphology Lab

Marine invertebrates exhibit a variety of behavioral and morphological adaptations which allow them to survive in various habitats within the marine environment. Students will observe some of these adaptations firsthand while conducting short experiments. The observations are meant to allow students to draw conclusions regarding the invertebrates' in situ behavior but also to make the students begin to ask questions. All grades. PDF Summary

Advanced Invertebrate Behavior & Morphology Lab: This lab covers the same concepts as the basic lab but also encourages students to understand taxis vs. kinesis via observation. Grades 10 and above. PDF Summary

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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. All grades. PDF Summary

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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. All grades. PDF Summary

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Keys Survey

This field trip gives students a first-hand perspective of all of the habitats that make up Key Largo.  The trip begins with a walk into the hardwood hammock off of Transylvania Ave. and includes snorkeling at multiple sites as we take the boat inshore to offshore.  The changes in ecology the students observe at each habitat will be discussed. Grades 7 & above (involves getting on and off the boat multiple times for several snorkel opportunities and if weather is not ideal, young snorkelers will not be safe—can be physically too much for many younger students and/or new snorkelers). PDF Summary

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Marine Debris

Marine debris is one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the world’s oceans and waterways.  This is a half day program that encompasses a classroom discussion, boat trip and mangrove cleanup and data analysis.  In the classroom, marine debris is defined and impacts and solutions to the issue are discussed. Students will go out on the water for a cleanup and return to MarineLab to collect and analyze data.  All data will be submitted to Mote Marine Lab and entered into MarineLab’s in house database. Extensions: We can provide a “coastal cleanup” opportunity on most of our field trips where students can take time to pick up trash in the area.  All data entered into MarineLab’s database can be made accessible to teachers to use in the classroom. All grades. PDF Summary

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Everglades 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. Schools are responsible for obtaining their own fee waiver for park entry. All grades. PDF Summary for discussion only.

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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. Grades 9 and above. PDF Summary.

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Microplastics Lab

While in the field, students collect a 1 L water sample. Back at MarineLab, they will filter the samples to determine the number of microplastics/L. Impacts of microplastics and possible solutions will be discussed. Data collected will be submitted to SeaGrant's Florida Microplastics Awareness Project. Grades 7 and above. PDF Summary

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Coral Restoration Discussion & Field Trip

Students spend an hour in the classroom discussing the need for reef restoration and various restoration efforts, including efforts that MarineLab instructors assist with in the waters of Key Largo. Students will be taken to one of the Coral Restoration Foundation's coral nurseries and to a restoration site. Citizen science options are available for this field trip for groups that would like to assist in Coral Restoration Foundation’s efforts. All grades. PDF Summary

Advanced: Citizen science options are available for this field trip for groups that would like to assist in Coral Restoration Foundation’s efforts. PDF Summary

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Night Lagoon Snorkel

Explore the lagoon at night! Students may experience bioluminescence 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. All grades. PDF Summary

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Florida Bay Survey Field Trip

The Florida Bay survey program is a citizen science program that builds on the snorkeling expertise gained during the seagrass/mangrove ecology core programs.  This is a 3 hour program where students will collect water quality data and work in buddy pairs to conduct underwater surveys.  Students will record the abundance of seagrass, macroalgae and Florida Bay animals they learned to identify during the seagrass/mangrove ecology programs.  All data is entered into MarineLab’s long term database. All grades. PDF Summary

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