5 Ways to Teach Marine Biology to Students

Akanksha Saxena

Introduction: Marine Biology

Marine Biology is a fascinating subject that studies different biological organisms living in the seas and oceans. Not that this is all we know about marine biology, the picture is larger than that. Marine scientists across the globe study different aspects of marine biology that revolve around various terrestrial factors that affect the health of seas and oceans. Some others study the effect of anthropogenic activities on marine life. And some others study the relationship between climate change and sea life.

Marine life is extensive by its nature; several floral, faunal, algal, fungal, and microbial species find their homes in the deep seas and oceans of the Earth. The changing conditions due to global warming and climate change have shown unfortunate outcomes for marine life. This makes studies followed by proactive measurements the need of the hour.

When students are introduced to this topic, it comes as a wave of enthusiasm to learn about the unraveled world of oceans and seas. But as educators advance into the details of biological life, it often becomes taxing and monotonous for students. Several reasons underlie this problem. 

It becomes important that educators understand the typical issues faced by their class when teaching this topic. Only by acknowledging and providing due attention to those issues, we can make marine biology a fun-filled subject for young learners.

We, at Labster, understand the complexities of this subject. This article can provide some help as it attempts to identify those major issues encountered by students. It also lists practical solutions that teachers and educators can incorporate in their next class. By the end, we’ll convince you why a virtual lab simulation will be helpful not only for your students but also for you as an educator to deliver concepts more efficiently.

Why can Marine Biology be tricky to teach or learn?

There are 3 reasons why students dread and get confused about the topic of Marine Biology. Acknowledging these blocks is the first step toward making the topic more approachable. 

1The subject is as extensive as the seas and oceans themselves! 

The subject of Marine Biology is full of details and intricacies. Students find it hard to decipher the botany, zoology, biochemistry, taxonomy, physiology, etc of the different biological organisms living in the oceans' deep world. If someone is interested to learn only about plants, the variety of plant life is not visible to them until they scuba dive and see it for themselves. Reachability restricts young marine biologists from studying most biological organisms, whether plants, algae, animals, reptiles, fishes, microbes, etc.

2. Techniques aren’t well-introduced and the topic becomes theoretical

Another reason why students fail to follow the premise of the subject is the lack of training in dealing with marine organisms. This becomes evident when some marine samples are made available to students. The lack of proper handling either ruins the limited material or leads to improper sectioning and studies, which don’t yield any positive outcomes in lab setups. Students aren’t usually trained and taught about different sampling techniques, different trophic levels in the aquatic sea/ocean ecosystems, various water quality assessment tools, and the use of different lab instruments like spectrophotometers, etc. In the absence of all these activities, the topic tends to become quite theoretical and students presume to solely rote learn.

3. Lack of sufficient educational tools

Teaching students about the utilization of marine biology concepts in the real world can be a tricky situation. Without having no on-field experience or dealing with marine organisms, the idea of translating theoretical knowledge to practical use can sound absurd. Also, most of the time, they are only textually taught about the concepts with no interactive visual or video tools. Educators mostly have documentaries and subscriptions to Discovery or National Geographic channel videos which are good at explaining biology but don’t teach biological organism handling or experiments. The lack of engaging simulations and games where students can delve deeper into the world of marine organisms can make them either disinterested or bored with the topics. 

5 ways to make Marine Biology a more approachable topic to understand

To address the issues encountered while teaching about Marine Biology, educators can engage the under-listed solutions in their classes. Not only can they make teaching easier for educators like you, but they will also make lessons clearer and easier to assimilate for your students.

1. Explain the importance of studying “Marine Biology” 

Most educators tend to overlook this solution thinking it’s too basic. But this is the most important advice we offer to them when they deal with this subject. Learners always stay motivated when they can associate their learning outcomes with fruitful results in form of research findings, employability, scope in academia, etc. We list a few of the areas where concepts of marine biology find practical utility in the world outside schools and universities.

  • Industries dealing with marine organisms require marine biologists with technical knowledge of the subject.
  • R&Ds of many health-based industries study marine microbiology. They bio-prospect for new marine organisms that can be useful for developing medicines from their bioactive substances.  This help find cures for diseases and other health-related problems.
  • Industries dealing with algae for various commercially important products like polyketides, food, halogenated compounds, gums (phycocolloids; agar, alginic acid, and carrageenan), steroids, carotenoids, polyphenols, fatty acids, lectins, peptides, etc. 
  • Scientific academic research highly recognizes marine biology as it forms the basis of primary production that drives the entire food chain. For studying eco-dynamics, concepts of marine biology are important.
  • International and national conventions, regulatory bodies, and environmental conservation organizations working on conservation schemes require marine biologists to strategically plan programs for marine organisms’ safety.
marine biology lab theory page

Figure: Marine Biology Lab simulations. Image Source

2. Train them well 

Students should be involved in more field activities to incite their interest in the subject. We list a few of the commonly undertaken activities in most marine biology labs that you can introduce your students to.

  • Boat operation and maintenance
  • Systematic versus random sampling
  • Water quality assessment (sampling techniques)
  • Marine microbial data and sample collection
  • Scuba diving
  • Preserving and labeling samples from field collections
  • Using hydrometers and salinity kits
  • Using cast nets, plankton nets, etc.

You can use informative Youtube videos that explain what marine biology fieldwork looks like. Example- Link-1 

marine biology simulation

Figure: Snippet from the Marine Biology simulation by Labster where students can virtually go on a field trip and learn essential field techniques. Full simulation is available for High School and University/College classes.

3. Bolster their basic understanding of the subject 

As your students become more interested in the subject, you can now delve deeper into the core concepts of the subject and explain each one of them in depth. Having a clear understanding of the core subjects can come in handy when one is trying to resolve real-world problems. Since the field in itself is quite extensive and most marine biologists try to focus on a specialized sub-field like ecology, phycology (algae), ichthyology (fishes), invertebrate zoology, mammalogy, marine biotechnology, microbiology, etc, you can explain the common premise that underlies all the subfields of marine biology. We list a few of them for you to begin with. 

  • Explain the importance of sample collection and biological plus technical replicates  (You can use The Scientific Method simulation from Labster).
  • Scientifically approaching the problem and studying the interrelationships of the marine organisms before concluding. (When dealing with ecology-related questions).
  • Explain the idea behind trophic levels, trophic pyramids, and the energy flow in aquatic ecosystems like the sea and ocean.
  • Explain the difference between heterotrophs and autotrophs (You can use the Trophic Levels simulation from Labster).
  • Explain the importance of taxonomical studies and bioprospection.

Figure: Snippet from the Marine Biology simulation by Labster teaching the importance of knowing the basics of ichthyology. Full simulation is available for High School and University/College classes.

4. Educate them about the different techniques involved

After the ideas of basic marine biology concepts are clear to your students, you can introduce them to the frequently used lab techniques, equipment, and instruments that need to be handled to enquire about the collected samples. We list some of them that are easily available in all labs.

  • Handling pH meters, hydrometers, thermometers, bucket thermometers, reversing thermometers (for Nansen bottles), salinometers, etc.
  • Handling Secchi disks and forel/ule scale, visibility tools like deep sea vision camera systems, etc.
  • Teach about dissection methods (algae, plants, animals, etc)
  • Teach about microscopy and staining techniques (You can use the Microscopy simulation from Lasbter to explain this).
  • Teach about the use of a spectrophotometer for measuring the level of dissolved oxygen level in marine water samples (You can use the  Spectrophotometers simulation and Spectrophotometry technique simulation by Labster).
  • Explain the concepts of a calibration curve, linear regression, and extrapolation.
marine biology simulation 3

Figure: Snippet from the Marine Biology simulation by Labster where students can virtually learn the lab techniques. Full simulation is available for High School and University/College classes.

5. Use virtual lab simulations

The topic of marine biology is extensive and keeping your students engaged in the class can come as a challenge for most educators. This is why we have brought the Marine Biology simulation that can ease the work for you.

In this engaging simulation, your students can work as environmental investigators and solve a massive fish-kill mystery. They will be able to learn about the different trophic levels of the ecosystem. They can engage using the gamification tools of the simulation and perform a fish necropsy. As they virtually use a spectrophotometer to analyze oxygen levels in the water, the principles of the instruments can be fairly easily understood as a whole.

With virtual laboratory simulations from Labster, teachers can make more insightful points as students are rendered with better visual options where they can follow the different concepts in a free-flowing manner. Our simulation, with its unique gamification elements, will save the day for you. By using this way of active and immersive teaching, our virtual learning platform takes an advent in the field of Science to make the upcoming scientists thorough with the “basics of their respective subjects”. 

You can learn more about the Marine Biology simulation here or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.

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