It's a Big Blue World - Keeping Our Oceans Sustainable

Introduction | Background Knowledge | Activities | Extensions | Standards

Fish in water with plastic trash bag


One-third of people on Earth live within 100 miles of the ocean. The ocean holds 97% of the world's water. Ninety-nine percent of the habitable space on Earth is ocean. The world's smallest organisms and the world's largest organisms live in the oceans. The oceans also provide miles of coastline that people use for recreation, which fuels economies through tourism.

Our oceans are at risk. With over 3 billion people relying on the oceans for their livelihoods, it is crucial to conserve and sustainably use the oceans to allow people to continue to care for their families for generations.

Click the image above to read more about the UN's Sustainable Development Goal #14.

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Background Knowledge

About 71% of the Earth's surface is covered by ocean water. The ocean is a massive habitat where an estimated 90% of the living things are not classified. Life in the ocean is threatened by human activity. By 2050, the trash in the oceans will outweigh the fish. Plastic and garbage are collecting into giant "garbage patches." There are at least five around the world, with the largest being the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is twice the size of the state of Texas. As the plastic in the oceans slowly breaks down, harmful chemicals are released into the water.

In addition to pollution, human activity has caused dead zones around the world. The number of dead zones, or areas in the ocean that do not have enough oxygen to support life, have grown from 400 in 2008 to 700 in 2019. The second-largest dead zone on Earth is the northern Gulf of Mexico, along the southern coast of the United States.

The world's oceans absorb many of the carbon emissions created by burning fossil fuels. This causes the pH of the oceans to turn more acidic. The acidification of the oceans bleaches coral, kills shellfish like clams, mussels, coral, and oysters, and can make it harder for predators to locate their prey.

The earth has 372,000 miles of coastline. Many people live and work along the shore, including over 3 billion people who make their living from the sea. Many areas are not protected and in addition to pollution and acidification, fisheries are dying.

United Nations Sustainable Goal 14 focuses on life below water and pledges to "conserve and sustainably use the oceans, sea, and marine resources for sustainable development."

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Trash on beach


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Saving the Oceans

  • Sea Going Green has three sustainability projects across the globe. After researching these projects, students can create their own sustainability project to help keep the oceans clean or to support sustainable ecosystems. If possible, students can test their projects in a local waterway.
  • Explore Coral Bleaching on NASA's Climate Kids (TeachersFirst review) by changing the environmental conditions, such as temperature, precipitation, and pollution levels.

Sustainable Fish Diner

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Ice breaking off


  • AASL National School Library Standards
    • Inquire Shared Foundation, Think Domain - Learners display curiosity and initiative by: 1. Formulating questions about a personal interest or a curricular topic. 2. Recalling prior and background knowledge as context for new meaning.
    • Inquire Shared Foundation, Create Domain - Learners engage with new knowledge by following a process that includes: 1. Using evidence to investigate questions. 3. Generating products that illustrate learning.
    • Inquire Shared Foundation, Grow Domain - Learners participate in an ongoing inquiry-based process by: 1. Continually seeking knowledge. 3. Enacting new understanding through real-world connections.
    • Include Shared Foundation, Create Domain - Learners adjust their awareness of the global learning community by: 2. Evaluating a variety of perspectives during learning activities.
    • Include Shared Foundation, Grow Domain - Learners demonstrate empathy and equity in knowledge building within the global learning community by: 2. Demonstrating interest in other perspectives during learning activities.
    • Curate Shared Foundation, Create Domain - Learners gather information appropriate to the task by: 2. Collecting information representing diverse perspectives.
    • Explore Shared Foundation, Think Domain - Learners develop and satisfy personal curiosity by: 1. Reading widely and deeply in multiple formats and write and create for a variety of purposes. 2. Reflecting and questioning assumptions and possible misconceptions.
    • Explore Shared Foundation, Share Domain - Learners engage with the learning community by: 1. Expressing curiosity about a topic of personal interest or curricular relevance.
  • ISTE Standards for Students
    • Knowledge Constructor - 1.3.d. Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.

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