Skip to main content

Scripps Institution of Oceanography: Marine Invertebrates

Department: Scripps Institution of Oceanography         

Instructor: Lori Luers
Instructor's Email:
Prerequisites: None
Section ID: 153911

Schedule: Mon. - Fri. 9:30AM - 11:30AM PST


Course Description

Marine invertebrates represent 97% of all animal diversity! If you've seen "My Octopus Teacher" or "Chasing Coral", you know there is still a lot we do not understand about them, and a lot to learn from them. They are found in every ocean ecosystem including underwater volcanoes, reefs, kelp forests, rocky shores, and whale falls. Not only do they form the foundation of the ecosystems we rely on, they also have a direct impact on humans: they protect coastal communities from storms, impact economies via tourism and fisheries, contribute to new medicines, and teach us about the history of our planet. We will dive into the diversity of marine invertebrates which includes masters of camouflage, bioluminescence, hunting, architecture, vision, survival and more! We will discuss what we know this far about their biology, ecology, and extraordinary behaviors. We will examine marine invertebrates in the context of media, news and scientific articles, as well as take a closer look at specific endangered species and current rescue efforts. We will integrate our knowledge and develop critical thinking skills such as making predictions and identifying research gaps. We will think about questions such as: How do we save our kelp forests, coral reefs, and more, with invertebrates? How do we build sustainable fisheries, with invertebrates? How can we build technology, from invertebrates? We will also address controversial topics in conservation such as whether we should farm octopus and the role of humans in saving ecosystems.

Course Goals / Learning Objectives

  • Skills to identify and classify marine invertebrates
  • The ability to discuss the significance of marine invertebrates to human health, economy, and our ecosystems
  • Ability to educate others about common misconceptions regarding marine invertebrates (such as corals, jellyfish, etc.)
  • Understanding of evolutionary relationships & geological time
  • A heightened understanding of marine ecosystems and the interactions at play, in particular between animals
  • Deepened awareness of human impacts, as well as current conservation methods
  • Updated knowledge of threatened species and what that will mean for other animals & ecosystems
  • Skills in reading and analyzing scientific papers as well as citing sources
  • Stronger sense of passion as well as awareness of possibilities in oceanographic studies

Course Topics/Outline

  • Introduction to oceanography (ecosystems, marine science)
  • Introduction to systematics (reading evolutionary trees, classification)
  • Significance of marine invertebrates to humans
  • Biology, ecology, and significance of major marine invertebrate phyla: Porifera (sponges), Cnidaria (corals, jellyfish and anemones, etc.), Platyhelminthes (flatworms, parasites, etc.), Mollusca (mussels, abalone, giant squid, octopus etc.), Annelida (marine worms), Arthropoda (sea spiders, horseshoe crabs, decapods, etc.), Lophotrochozoa (bryozoans, rotifers, etc.), Echinodermata (sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, etc.), our closest "invertebrate" relatives (pyrosomes, salps, acorn worms etc.)
  • Symbioses (close interactions between animals e.g. coral & algae, parasites, etc.)
  • Bioluminescence (animals that glow)
  • Endangered species/IUCN Red List
  • Conservation science
  • Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Sustainability (sea cucumbers, oysters, etc.)
  • Extreme adaptations: hydrothermal vents (underwater volcanoes), whale falls, Arctic & Antarctic polar ecosystems, parasitic lifestyles
  • Invertebrates in media/science communications: cartoons, news articles, introduction to infographics, etc.
  • Plankton (phytoplankton and zooplankton)
  • Human impacts (the Anthropocene) & climate change (El Niño, weather oscillation patterns)
  • Ecosystem monitoring & field methods
  • "Think globally, act locally": ways to help the ocean and communities
  • Universities, volunteering, studying abroad, & careers
  • Project on invertebrate of choice

Week 1 Module

  • Introduction to course objectives, classmates, and technological format (icebreakers)
  • Assess prior knowledge
  • Introduction to marine science and ecosystems (deep-sea, coral reefs, tidepools, kelp forests)
  • Significance of marine invertebrates to the world
  • Introduction to systematics and reading evolutionary trees
  • Begin biology, ecology, significance and diversity of the following phyla: Porifera (sponges), Cnidaria (incl. Jellyfish, corals), Ctenophora (comb jellies),
  • How to research online and read & cite scientific articles

Week 2 Module

  • Continuing marine invertebrate biodiversity
  • Platyhelminthes (flatworms)
  • Lophophorates (bryozoans, chaetognaths, rotifers, brachiopods: "small but mighty" & living fossils)
  • Molluscs (bivalves, sea slugs, octopus, squid, abalone, cuttlefish): camouflage, "thieves", geniuses
  • Annelids (marine worms e.g. christmas tree worm, bobbit worm, spaghetti worms, etc.)
  • Extreme environments
  • Class activities, discussion and reflection

Week 3 Module

  • Arthropods (crabs, krill, sea spiders, water bears)
  • Echinoderms (sea stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers)
  • Introduction to other deuterostomes (urochordates and hemichordates)
  • Plankton: phytoplankton, zooplankton
  • Bioluminescence
  • Class activities, discussion and reflection

Week 4 Module

  • Ecosystem monitoring & Field methods (biodiversity surveys, plankton tows, etc.)
  • Climate change impacts on marine invertebrates
  • What are people doing around the world? (projects worldwide to get involved with)
  • "Think globally, act locally": ways to help the ocean and communities
  • Colleges, careers, and topics of students' preference
  • Identify and work on final projects (invertebrate of choice and relevance to real-world)
  • Class discussion and reflection


*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.