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Scripps Institution of Oceanography: Marine Biology

Department: Marine Science                                 

Instructors: Nicole Yen and Sonya Timko
Instructors' Emails:;
Prerequisites: None
Schedule: Mon, Weds, Fri, 9:00AM - 10:20AM PST

Course Description

This course is designed to give high school students an appreciation and understanding of marine biology. Students will learn about the diverse groups of marine organisms, variety of ecosystems and habitats, and current events in today’s oceans such as overfishing, ocean acidification, restoration and marine protected areas. Through lecture, labs, projects and discussions, students will learn about the diversity of ocean environments and how the creatures that live there are adapted to best survive. Students will learn theories pertinent to ecology as a whole as well as the specifics to the ocean. Students will also have the opportunity to explore areas that interest them, to become experts on a topic and teach each other. The class will stress hands on learning with mini experiments and demonstrations.

Course Goals / Learning Objectives

The goals of this course include giving the student a broad overall understanding of marine ecology, taxonomy, and diversity. Students will come out of the class better aware of current events regarding the ocean and its overall health. Students will gain an understanding of how the environment plays a significant role in the survival and lifestyle of the organisms that live there. Additionally the course will give students an opportunity to pursue their own interest area through guided independent research.

Course Outline


  • Introduction to the Ocean— abiotic characteristics and habitats
  • Introduction to Taxonomy—Introduce groups of marine organisms and their characteristics
  • Tours of SIO and the Collections at SIO

Invisible Life: Plankton

  • Introduction to the Plankton
  • Their importance in the food chain
  • Plankton Tow from the beach or the SIO Pier
  • Microscope Identification of Samples

Marine Algae and Plants

  • Introduction to green, brown and red algae
  • You probably eat what kind of algae?
  • Algae Collection and Scientific Pressing as Art


  • Introduction into the lives of Invertebrates: from simple to complex 
  • HUGE Diversity of body types and life histories
  • Functional Biology Lab with live specimens


  • Anatomy and Diversity—groups of fishes
  • Morphology, Schooling, Reproductive strategies—with interesting case studies
  • Either Fish Dissection Lab or A Study of Fishes at the Birch Aquarium

Marine Mammals

  • Groups of Marine Mammals and their adaptations and life histories
  • Get up close and Personal: Case Study of local harbor seals 
  • Manatee Chat: Learn how to understand calls and contribute to a real experiment

Kelp Forest Ecology

  • Kelp—What is it? Where is it? Why is it important?
  • Organisms of the kelp forest
  • Case study of Sea Otters to introduce concepts of a keystone species, trophic cascade and ecosystem balance

Coral Reef Ecology

  • Distribution
  • Corals—who they really are
  • Diversity of organisms
  • Threats to coral reefs

Deep Sea Ecology

  • Abiotic pressures of living down deep
  • Organisms, their challenges and adaptations
  • Deep sea vents
  • Bioluminescent creatures: Talk with a scientist!

Intertidal Ecology

  • Pressures of a dynamic habitat
  • Organisms, their distribution and adaptations
  • Fieldwork: Quadrat Study of our own Intertidal Habitat

Mangroves, Wetlands, Salt Marshes and Estuaries

  • What are these habitats and why are they important?
  • What types of organisms live here?
  • Adaptations of these ecosystems


  • What is it? Why is it happening?
  • Diversity of fishing methods
  • What is an ideal fish to fish and why?
  • Case studies
  • Fisheries management strategies
  • Sustainable fish you can eat!

Marine Protected Areas and Restoration

  • Different types of MPAs
  • Benefits and drawbacks to MPAs
  • Artificial reefs

Climate Change

  • How does it affect the ocean?
  • Ocean acidification
  • Distribution changes


*Courses vary by experience and exposure to content. Instructors have the ability to change content and pace to serve the needs of students. Courses have been modified for online teaching.