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Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Teachers' Curriculum
"The Land-Sea Connection"

Cover | Table of Contents | Introduction | Background | Investigation 1 | Investigation 2
Glossary | Teacher Resources | Curriculum Evaluation | Credits

Investigation 1
How would an oil spill affect a Marine Sanctuary?

Humpback mother and calf © Dave MatillaHumpback mother and calf © Dave Matilla

In this investigation, students consider the criteria used to assess damage to natural resources and mitagation measures when a large scale environmental threat, such as an oil spill, occurs.

Background Information

NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries


Danger - Oil Spill in the Sanctuary!

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Learn what the terms resources and stakeholders mean;
  • Investigate how a human impact, in this case an oil spill, can affect Sanctuary resources;
  • Communicate, in a mock public meeting, how to most effectively mobilize people and resources to protect the Sanctuary;
  • Be introduced to Geographic Information System technology.


Geography Standard 3
How to analyze spatial organization of people, places, and environments on the Earth's surface

Geography Standard 18
How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the futur

Science Education Standards
Developing self-directed learners

How to read and interpret graphic and geologic maps

Activity: Danger--Oil Spill in the Sanctuary


Guiding Question

What Sanctuary resources might be affected in the advent of a large-scale oil spill?


NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries for each student group (see Teacher Resource book volume 1)

Oil Spill Activity Cards, one set for each student group

Oil Spill Scenario & Presentation Guidelines, one set for each student group

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) Map, one for each student group

GIS Overlays*, one set for each student group

Overhead Projector and transparency markers for presentations

Access to the Internet (optional)

Paper for student journals or lab notebook.

Full-sized color poster of MBNMS, available from the MBNMS office. Contact Karen Grimmer;, (831) 647-4253

* Prepare overlays by photocopying masters onto transparencies.



What Makes Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Special? Monterey Bay, the largest of NOAA's marine sanctuaries, hosts a rich array of habitats. Within its boundaries lie rugged rocky shores, lush kelp forests, and one of the deepest underwater canyons on the west coast. The canyon cuts more than 3,500 meters (2 miles) deep and reaches nearly 100 kilometers (60 miles) out to sea. Sanctuary habitats abound with life, from tiny plankton to huge blue whales. With its great diversity of habitats and life, the sanctuary is a national focus for marine research and education program.

map graphic


Sandy beaches

Submarine canyon

Rocky shores

Pelagic, open ocean

Kelp forests


Key Species

Sea otter

Brown pelican

Gray whale


Market squid

Giant kelp

Cultural Resources

Indian midden sites

Naval airship USS Macon

Latitude and Longitude:

36° N 122° W

Web Site Address:


Part 1: What is a Marine Sanctuary?


On the board or overhead projector, write the words "marine sanctuary." Tell students that 13 national marine sanctuaries have been set aside in the United States since 1972.


Using the National Marine Sanctuaries Background Information sheet as a guide, describe to your students why marine sanctuaries were established and how they are managed. Start them thinking about what marine sanctuaries are--establishing what they already know and encouraging them to ask and answer their own questions about sanctuaries and the marine environment.


Discuss with students the role of national parks, both on land and at sea, as special places that preserve algae, plants, and animals, the habitats in which they live, unique landforms, and recreational opportunities for people. Compare the establishment of the first national park, Yellowstone, in 1872 to the establishment of the first national marine sanctuary, the sunken ship Monitor, about one hundred years later.

Part 2: Using the MBNMS Map for an Investigation


Using the poster-size MBNMS Map, as a class, look at the scale and color bars in the bottom left corner. Identify which colors are urban areas (gray), ocean (light & dark blue depending on depth), low-lying croplands and coastal wetlands (green).


Identify some of the dominant features of the map. These might include Monterey Bay, the city nearest your school, the mountain ranges (Santa Lucia, Gabilan, Santa Cruz, & Diablo Range), the undersea canyons (Soquel, Carmel, & Monterey), rivers leading to the Sanctuary (Salinas, Pajaro, & San Lorenzo), and Highway 1 and 101.


Discuss the use of Geographic Information System (GIS) as a technological tool for creating maps and analyzing areas spatially. Using an overhead projector and transparency copies of GIS overlay sheets, briefly look at the different types of data that scientists have collected. For More GIS information see:


Explain that these images are created from distinct GPS (Geographic Positioning System) data points that are input into a computer in units of longitude and latitude.


Lay the GIS transparencies on top of each other to demonstrate how GIS data is considered multi-dimensional or spatial. These overlays will be the informational sources that students will use during their mock public meeting presentations.


Discuss the importance of monitoring natural areas in order to identify if changes are due to natural or human disturbances. Please refer to "Ecosystem Monitoring in the Sanctuaries".



In response to today's environmental disaster - when 300 million liters of crude oil spilled in the Monterey Bay Sanctuary - the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration has directed $50,000 toward emergency aid.

At 7:00 pm tonight there will be an emergency public meeting at the town hall, to consider where the funding will go and what actions the public can take to protect our coast and resources.

In order to have a voice in how the funding is allocated, present your case to the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Advisory Council, and they will make the appropriate recommendations to NOAA.

If interested in speaking, please prepare a 5 minute presentation with supporting graphics. You may sign-up upon entry to the meeting. At the close of the meeting, the Council will announce any relevant actions and their funding recommendations.

Please Join in this important effort!

Part 3: What Resources Might be Affected by a Major Oil Spill?

Students will represent six different community groups. (See Oil Spill Activity Cards.)

The groups are:

  1. the Sanctuary Advisory Council, who will preside over a public meeting. See inset "NOAA Announces $50,000 Grant!"
  2. US Coast Guard Officers, who will report on the situation as they see it.
  3. Park Rangers and Oil Spill Volunteers
  4. Scientists
  5. Fishing Industry Representatives
  6. Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Representatives

The last four groups will present their perspective to the Council on how to mitigate (or reduce) the negative environmental and economic impacts that might occur due to the oil spill event.

* IMPORTANT NOTE! There is a grant of $50,000 that will be allocated to the community for dealing with the oil spill's impact.


Divide the class into six groups. Each group should receive one of the six Activity Cards, an Oil Spill Scenario sheet, and a Presentation Guidelines card. The cards will explain each group's roles and responsibilities.


Read the NOAA $50,000 Grant Announcement (see following page) to the class. Have each group discuss the concerns and answer the questions raised on its activity card.


Have each group give a five minute presentation to the Sanctuary Advisory Council following the rules listed in the Presentation Guidelines handout.




Primary Concern: Which community groups need funding? How much? Members of this panel may include a state park official, a government official, a scientist, an educator, a business owner, a fishermen, and a diver.

Panel's Task: Listen objectively to all perspectives and recommend to NOAA how the $50,000 should be allocated. You will deliberate after hearing all presentations, and then announce your decisions.

Oil Spill Response Team

Primary concern: Assess the situation and inform the public of the oil spill location, size, direction of movement, potential for damage, etc.

Answer the Questions: What area will be most immediately affected? (plot latitude & longitude) Refer to the Oil Spill Scenario sheet.

Stakeholder Group #1

Primary Concern: Impact of the oil spill on wildlife and sensitive habitats.

Answer the Questions: How might the spill affect marine animals and their habitat? How much of the money, if any, should be put toward rescue and rehabilitation efforts?

Stakeholder Group #2
(US Fish & Wildlife biologists)

Primary Concern: Longterm assessment of the oil spill impact on wildlife & natural areas.

Answer the Questions:
How long will the environmental impacts of the spill be felt?

How would a longterm monitoring study assess this? What types of monitoring techniques are recommended? (Surveys have varied costs depending if they are on foot, by boat or aerial).

Stakeholder Group #3
(fishermen, seafood packers & seafood markets)

Primary Concern: Impact of oil spill on fishing

Answer the Questions:
How might the oil spill affect fishing, both presently & in the future?

How much money might they lose?

Can they seek reimbursement from the government?

Stakeholder Group #4
(resource managers, researchers & educators)

Primary Concern: Impact of oil spill on all Sanctuary resources. MBNMS is a multi-use area.

Answer the Questions:
How can the MBNMS help coordinate all the oil spill clean-up operations?

How can the MBNMS support research and monitoring efforts?

a PDF version of this file can be found in the fullcurr.pdf document (2.7mb)
OIL SPILL SCENARIO (one card per group)


"On January 9th, 2000, a 350 meter cargo freighter ______________________ (your school name),was traveling in a dense fog, gale winds and heavy seas. At 9:00 pm, the freighter collided with an oil tanker called _____________________ (another school) which was carrying 300 million liters of crude oil. The bow of the freighter was slightly damaged, but was in no risk of sinking. The oil tanker, however, sustained heavy damage to its midsection. It was leaking oil into the ocean and is in danger of sinking."

The US Coast Guard station in Monterey received a distress signals from both ships and informed the MBNMS of the disaster. Here are the details of the situation.


Tanker Position:

Latitude: 36 degrees 40 minutes north

Longitude: 123 degrees 10 minutes west

Wind Speed:

35 knots from the NW

Sea Condition:

5 meter waves

Vessel Damage:

Oil from both the cargo freighter and the tanker was seen on the surface. The oil tanker was definitely sinking. The freighter was dead in the water

PRESENTATION GUIDELINES (one card per group)


The Sanctuary Advisory Council is composed of 20 federally-appointed representatives from government agencies, local institutions, and user groups (diving, fishing, harbors, agriculture) concerned with the resources of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. One student group will represent the council members, and will sit in the front facing the rest of the audience. Their role is to advise NOAA on issues important to the community.

Your stakeholder group must develop and present a clear and persuasive argument to the Council members. You want them to clearly understand what your needs are, and why you deserve a good portion of the $50,000 that is available. The funding is available for clean-up efforts, research and monitoring, and to help mitigate (reduce) the negative effects of the spill.


• Each team will have five minutes to present its case to the Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC).

• Your presentation should be colorful and informative and include the use of color graphics such as the poster-size map and/or GIS overlays with an overhead projector.

• Look through the GIS overlays to find those of importance to your group. Explain why those particular resources are most important to your community group, and how they are or will be affected.

• At the closing of each presentation, there will be five additional minutes allotted for questions and comments from the rest of the audience who have come to participate in this public meeting.

• At the conclusion of all the presentations, the SAC will then deliberate and inform the audience of the recommendations it will provide to NOAA. NOAA will then allocate the funds accordingly.

a PDF version of this file can be found in the fullcurr.pdf document (2.7mb)

GIS Overlays


JPEG version


GIS Overlay--Coastline, Bathymetry, & Boundry
GIS Overlay--Coastline, Bathymetry, & Boundry

GIS Overlay--Vessel Traffic
GIS Overlay--Vessel Traffic

GIS Overlay--Current& Prevailing Winds
GIS Overlay--Current& Prevailing Winds
JPEG version

JPEG version

JPEG version


GIS Overlay--Sea Otter Sightings
GIS Overlay--Sea Otter Sightings

GIS Overlay--Pinniped Haul-Out Areas
GIS Overlay--Pinniped Haul-Out Areas

GIS Overlay--Recreation Areas
GIS Overlay--Recreation Areas
JPEG version

JPEG version

JPEG version


GIS Overlay--Seabird Nesting Areas
GIS Overlay--Seabird Nesting Areas

GIS Overlay--Coastal Watersheds
GIS Overlay--Coastal Watersheds

GIS Overlay--Trawl Fishery Areas
GIS Overlay--Trawl Fishery Areas
JPEG version

JPEG version

JPEG version

a PDF version of these images can be found in the fullcurr.pdf document (2.7mb)

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Reviewed: April 11, 2024
Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service

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