Corrosion in the Ocean

July 2, 2009 by

You’ve probably heard about global climate change, but there’s another problem that poses an even greater threat to coral reefs and other shell-building ocean animals. That threat is called ocean acidification, which stems from the same problem of too much carbon dioxide (CO2) that leads to global climate change. CO2 levels are building up not just in Earth’s atmosphere, but also in the oceans. As the oceans absorb more CO2, they become more acidic. Marine snails, clams, crabs, sea stars, and many other small ocean animals use calcium carbonate, which is normally abundant in seawater, to build their skeletons or shells. Reef-building corals also use calcium carbonate to construct their skeletons, which accumulate over the years to form coral reefs. Yet, an increase in acidity (from more CO2 in the water) dissolves calcium carbonate shells and skeletons and even leads to a decrease in calcium carbonate levels in seawater, preventing newly developing animals from forming their shells or skeletons.

One great way to demonstrate ocean acidification has on shell-building animals is through the following simple experiment. You’ll need the following items: 

  • 2 small pieces of teacher’s chalk
  • 2 clear, plastic, drink cups
  • 1 cup drinking water
  • 1 cup clear, non-diet soda or white vinegar
  • scale

Provide students with an explanation about ocean acidification and ask the students to guess which liquid they think will dissolve the chalk, which is made of calcium carbonate. Place drinking water in one cup and the acid (soda or vinegar) in the other cup and label both cups. Weigh each piece of chalk, then place each in a cup. Watch what happens (bubbles or fizzing indicates that the chalk is dissolving.) After 30 minutes remove chalk. Does it look different. Let chalk dry and then weigh each piece again. Does either piece weigh less than before?

Discuss what happened with the students? Teacher’s chalk is made of calcium carbonate — the same material that coral and many other ocean animals use to build their skeletons or shells. Tap water is not acidic and does not dissolve calcium carbonate; this represents the normal state of seawater. Vinegar, and soda are both acids, which dissolve calcium carbonate. If the oceans continue to become more acidic, then coral reefs and other shell-building animals could disappear. Without changes from us, more than a million ocean animals, including ones that rely on coral reefs and shelled animals for food and shelter, could become endangered because of ocean acidification. Have students brainstorm on what simple things they can do, both at home and at school, to help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Share your results and conservation tips with others.


The Problems with Plastics

September 24, 2008 by

Everyday items such as plastic bottles, toothbrushes, plastic bags, etc. seem so harmless. But these items and others composed of plastic do not break down for tens to hundreds of years. They either persist in landfills or are eventually washed into the waterways and the ocean. In the ocean, plastics either remain in whole pieces or are broken down into tiny pellets. Ocean currents and storms carry these plastic items far out to sea or where they accumulate in gyres (large areas with water moving in a vortex pattern) or even wash up on remote islands. Tiny filter-feeding animals often ingest the plastic pellets. Larger animals, such as sea turtles and sea birds, mistake the larger plastic pieces for food, or prey on these smaller animals so that the plastic particles travel up the food chain.


What are solutions to the plastics problem? Bioplastics—plastics made of plant materials—are becoming widely available as an alternative to regular plastics, which are manufactured from petroleum. In an effort to cut down on plastic waste, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens use biodegradable cutlery and plates made from sugarcane in many of the parks’ restaurants. Bioplastics may seem like the ideal solution, but some sources of bioplastics like corn and soy, are also important food crops and could contribute to a decrease in availability of these crops for consumption.


How can you help? Have your class investigate and discuss the pros and cons of bioplastics. Ask the students, “Are bioplastics a solution?” and “What kinds of bioplastics are more sustainable?” Can your class come up with other simple solutions to deal with the problems of plastics? For example, each year SeaWorld and Busch Gardens recycle millions of pounds of plastics and other materials, including computers and other plastic-containing electronics. We invite you to discuss and share these solutions with other teachers and educators on this blog.

Shark Finning

June 23, 2008 by

This month’s upcoming edition of Land, Sea and Air, your class can learn all about coral reefs and the animals that call these reefs home, including many shark species. Yet, many shark populations are dramatically declining. What’s causing this decline? One major cause is overharvesting of sharks, mainly for their fins. In some cultures, dried shark fins are highly prized delicacies and used to make shark fin soup, which is served during special occasions. In the shark fin fishing method, only a shark’s fins are kept while the rest of the shark is discarded at sea to make room on the boat for more valuable fins. Unfortunately, the catch of millions of sharks taken each year by finning is unsustainable since sharks have slow growth and reproductive rates. Removal of these top ocean predators can disrupt the balance of entire ocean ecosystems. Shark finning is banned in the U.S. and many other countries including those in the European Union. The SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund provided grants to numerous projects involved in protecting sharks and their habitats.


What are some other threats sharks face? What are some activities that you and your class either have done or can do to raise awareness about these key ocean predators?

SeaWorld Celebrates Penguins

February 19, 2008 by

In February 2008, SeaWorld celebrates an important Anniversary—25 years of SeaWorld San Diego’s Penguin Encounter. If you haven’t had a chance to visit, Penguin Encounter contains a spacious and chilly habitat inside, perfect for Antarctic and subantarctic penguins. The freezing temperature and austral (southern) light cycle mimic the natural conditions in which emperor, king, Adélie, macaroni, and gentoo penguins thrive. Near the natural breeding season, nesting materials are also provided to the penguins. In fact, in 1982 SeaWorld made history by being the first zoological park in the world to hatch and rear Emperor penguins. In the following years, we’ve learned a tremendous amount about these engaging birds. This month in Land, Sea and Air, you and your class can help SeaWorld celebrate these charismatic birds by exploring a variety of penguin-related information and activities. You can also watch how the penguins participated in the celebration at

Welcome from Patti

January 23, 2008 by

Welcome to SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Schooling blog! As a biologist currently working as a Science Writer in the Education Department at SeaWorld San Diego I’m excited to help bring you scientific information on some of the animals, habitats, and research going on at the SeaWorld parks. I’m armed with a degree in Zoology from San Francisco State University, a few years of field research on wild harbor seals (the spotted seals that don’t bark), and more than four years of presenting animal information in a variety of ways as first an Educator and then a Science Writer for SeaWorld. 

I’m looking forward to some enriching discussions with you in the future! 


December 31, 2007 by

Admittedly, I was a little taken back when I heard that AZA named 2008 year of the frog.  I knew frogs were often used as environmental indicators but had no idea that at least one-third of the world’s amphibian population is at risk from habitat loss, pollution and fungal diseases.  As a teacher by heart and trade and a mother of two avid wildlife-lovers, frogs, toads and all sorts of amphibians are one of the easiest ways to engage students in hands-on, inquiry-based activities, because we can start in our own backyards.  My boys loved the Frog Listening Network (FLN) exercises.  While they are both young (5 & 3) they enjoyed matching up the frogs we found with pictures in a book- “two of the same game”.  FLN also gave a phonetic spelling of various frog and toad species’ vocalizations, which were apparently VERY funny to them.  The activities can be customized for nearly all ages.  The kids and I had a blast with them!


Welcome to the Schooling blog!

August 30, 2007 by

The Schooling blog is intended to compliment our monthly Land, Sea, & Air (LSA) e-newsletter developed specifically for educators. Within Schooling, we will be discussing the application of the classroom resources provided via the LSA as well as considering novel extensions of those same resources. The Schooling blog will be updated bi-monthly. This blog is currently stuctured for open commentary among registered users.