Wanderers of the Sea

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Go with the flow!

From algae too small to see with your own eyes to baby fish, crabs and squid to lion’s mane jellyfish that can grow up to 120 feet long! Plankton are a diverse, beautiful and extremely important group of organisms. Some are plant-like (phytoplankton) and others are animal-like (zooplankton). So, why are all these creatures grouped together? The one thing plankton all have in common is that they drift with the currents. Some spend their whole lives flowing with the ocean, while others only spend part of their lives in this drifting stage (i.e. fish larvae).

Regardless of the species, all plankton are essential to the livelihood of our planet.

They are at the bottom of the marine food web and are important food sources for fish and whales. And phytoplankton, the tiny floating plants, produce 50% of the oxygen we breathe.

You can help students learn more about these magnificent, drifting creatures by using our Kids Environmental Lesson Plans (KELP). With simple materials and minimal preparation, KELP modules are easy to teach, fun and educational. They’re even free and downloadable from our website, just register at: sailorsforthesea.org/programs/kelp.

Do you want to excite kids about life beneath the water’s surface?

Try Sinking Races, a competitive game where students attempt to design the slowest sinking plankton. Plankton need to stay suspended in the water column (not too close to the surface), either to find food or to catch some rays of sunlight. Plankton are found in a fantastic array of shapes, incorporating different adaptations which help keep them from sinking. Some are round and flat, others have long spines or bristles. Some even form long chains or produce an oil to help them float. With all kinds of craft materials, kids can create and test the floating capabilities of different plankton in a large container of water. The plankton that stays suspended in the water (not floating on the surface) or sinks the slowest wins!

If you are teaching near a source of water (ocean, lake or river) and want to uncover live plankton, check out What’s Hiding in the Water? Students build dip and plankton nets out of common household materials to collect these amazing drifters. This activity works especially well around docks and structures in the water. You can try to identify the plankton or have students draw and color what they see. They can even create their own names for the plankton. If you don’t live near a large body of water, try using the nets a stream. Students are bound to find some interesting creatures.

As with all KELP activities, be like plankton and “go with the flow”. The lesson plans can always be modified for materials you have available or adapted for different age groups.

Also, don’t forget to thank phytoplankton for every other breath you breathe!