Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
Classroom Activities

Elementary School (K - 4) | Middle School (5 - 8) | High School (9 - 12) | See Other Topics


The warm and cold waters of California’s Channel Islands

Give students a map of the Channel Islands (, and help them label the islands San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz and the Anacapa island group. Then have them look at the map at Inform them that this map shows water-temperature variations in the sanctuary, with orange being the warmest water and dark blue the coldest. Have them use colored pencils to very lightly shade these colors on their own maps.

Tell students that some researchers are studying the animals, including fish, that live in the waters near these islands. Have them look at the underwater slides ( and draw pictures of six of the fish in the Channel Islands, including the blue rockfish and the garibaldi.

Inform students that the garibaldi prefers warmer waters while the blue rockfish prefers colder waters. Have them draw symbols for these fish on the map, showing the population distributions students think the fish would have based on the temperature differences.

Now tell the class how many garibaldi and blue rockfish were actually counted in the most recent Great American Fish Count. This data can be found at Find data for one location in warmer waters (e.g., the Anacapa Islands) and one in colder waters (e.g., San Miguel island).

Have students write sentences explaining which types of fish prefer which levels of water temperature.


Why create a sanctuary?

Have students look at the map of the 12 U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries at (, and point out the location of the Channel Islands. Then have students look at a map of the Channel Islands, and explain that the light blue surrounding the islands represents the sanctuary’s boundaries.

Tell the class that the marine sanctuaries were created to preserve the country’s marine resources, much as national parks were created to preserve some of the nation’s land resources.

Have students browse through Channel Islands: The Living Sanctuary ( to see pictures and descriptions of the abundant wildlife in the Channel Islands sanctuary.

Inform the class that some Chumash Indians inhabited the Channel Islands long before any Europeans lived in this region. The Chumash on the Channel Islands built canoes called tomols and traveled between the islands and the mainland to trade with other Chumash. Have students look at the pictures of Chumash boats and artifacts at, and paraphrase the accompanying article for them.

Tell students that there have been several shipwrecks in the waters of the Channel Islands, and have them look at the shipwreck Web pages below. In particular, have them read the text at The Shipwrecks of Point Bennett (or paraphrase it for them) to learn that San Miguel Island is the most difficult island to approach and that Point Bennett, on the island’s western end, has been the site of numerous shipwrecks.

Ask the class to locate Point Bennett on the map at Then have them look carefully at the locations of the shipwrecks mentioned on the Point Bennett page (, find those locations on the San Miguel Island page (, and draw the shipwrecks on their own maps (you may print the map at for this activity).

Ask students why it might be important to protect the waters of the Channel Islands. Write their answers on the board. They should include both biological and cultural reasons, based on the things they’ve learned in this activity.

Help students find out more about the cultural history and natural environment of their own area. Ask them to determine a nearby location where they think a sanctuary should be created. (It doesn’t have to be a marine sanctuary but can be anywhere that students think would be worthy of protection—a prairie, mountain, lake, or other natural setting). Have them delineate this area on a local map and write sentences explaining why they think this area should be preserved.

Have younger students draw pictures of the things they’d see in this place and compile their pictures into a class mural or collage. Have older students create brochures introducing people in their community to the new sanctuary.




MIDDLE SCHOOL (Grades 5-8)

Getting ready to set out into the Channel Islands

Have students look at the weather log from the summer 2000 Sustainable Seas Expedition into the Channel Islands ( Did the ship encounter any rough weather?

Have students imagine they are going on a research expedition to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. They’re ready to leave, but first they need plot their course and check the current weather conditions and latest animal sightings.

First have them map the sanctuary on graph paper, using the maps at as guides (or you can print the map from the computer so they don’t have to map it themselves). Then ask them to plan a trip to each of the three weather buoys whose locations are described at the Weather Kiosk: Mid Santa Barbara Channel, West Santa Barbara Channel, and Point Conception ( Have them label these buoys on their maps and draw their routes to the buoys and back to Santa Barbara or Ventura on the mainland.

Have students write their predictions for what they’ll encounter on the trip, including weather conditions and marine-mammal sightings. They should write reports with the following information for each of the three buoy locations they’ll visit:


Environmental issues and population growth near the Channel Islands

Ask students whether they think there are a lot of people living in their town. Does it ever feel crowded? Do they ever have to wait in traffic jams or long lines? Do they think the population has increased since they were younger? Have their parents mentioned anything about population increase in the region?

Ask students what effects they think an increased population might have on their region’s water quality and on the animals that rely on local water supplies (from the ocean, rivers, or lakes). Write their ideas on the board.

Tell the class that one of the environmental pressures on the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary is the population growth that’s occurred on the land adjacent to the sanctuary. Have them go to the U.S. Census Web page at to find out how much the populations of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties (the two counties adjacent to sanctuary) have changed over the past decade. Ask them to calculate the numbers by which each county has grown and (for older students) the percentage increase in population.

Have students go to the following Web sites to find out about some causes of water pollution in the Channel Islands.

Ask students to write paragraphs explaining the relationship between population growth, storm-drain pollution, and the Channel Islands ecosystem. Their paragraphs should address the following questions:

  • What is storm-drain pollution, and how does it affect the marine sanctuary?
  • What can be done to prevent storm-drain pollution?
  • How might population growth contribute to pollution in the marine sanctuary?

Have students find out how much their own town’s population has grown in the past decade and how that population growth has affected or might in the future affect the town’s natural environment near where they live.

Now divide the class into small groups and have them prepare action plans to present to their city council. Their plans should explain how they think the city should deal with the potential impacts of increased population on wildlife habitats and the ecosystem. If their town’s population has not grown, have them prepare plans explaining how they think the town should manage potential growth in the future.




HIGH SCHOOL (Grades 9-12)

Fish species and water temperature

Have students read background information on the Great American Fish Count to find out what this annual event is all about (

Have students look at the map showing water-temperature variations in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary ( and/or the sea surface temperature map at the bottom of the Channel Islands Maps page ( Ask them if they think they’d find different fish species in different parts of the Channel Islands and if they think these differences could be related to water temperature.

Have students find out the most recent fish count results for the Anacapa Islands and Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel Islands by looking at the REEF Database ( Ask them to list the ten most common fish species for each island group or island. Then have them analyze their results to figure out how significantly species change as water temperature varies.

Have students report their findings in writing, referring to specific fish species (two notable ones are the blue rockfish and the garibaldi). Their reports should answer the question “Do fish species vary with water temperature?”

Have students conclude their reports by explaining whether they think water temperature is the main cause of these species variations or whether other factors might also play a role. They should use the map and other geographical information they can find about the sanctuary try its home page,, to draw their conclusions.

Rigs to reefs

Have students look at the map of the oil-production facilities and artificial reefs off the Santa Barbara coast at Then have them look at the map of the Channel Islands at, and explain that the light blue surrounding the islands represents the sanctuary’s boundaries. Are the oil facilities located within the sanctuary? If not, how close are they to the sanctuary?

Have students look at the pictures of offshore oil rigs (, and ask them to discuss the effects they think these structures might have on the Channel Islands ecosystem. (To learn a little about this ecosystem, they can go to Channel Islands: The Living Sanctuary []).

Inform students that there’s controversy surrounding what should be done about these oil rigs: Should they be removed, or should they be left where they are? Have students hypothesize the pros and cons of each decision and then research the issue to learn more about both sides. They should use the following Web pages and any other resources they can find. Ask them to make sure they’re aware of the sponsors and sources of any resources they use; since it’s a political issue, different interest groups will have different outlooks.

Ask students to pretend that they’re newly appointed members of the sanctuary’s advisory council and have been asked to state their recommendations for the future of the oil rigs at a public hearing. Have them write speeches that discuss both sides of the issue, that include environmental and economic arguments, and that reach conclusions as to what should be done about the oil rigs.


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