All these conditions help plant and animal plankton to thrive in the Gulf of Maine:

  • nutrients carried in by river runoff
  • cold water from Nova Scotia shelf (cold water holds more dissolved gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide)
  • circulation of nutrients by the gyre, other currents, winds, strong tidal mixing, and seasonal overturn of deep and surface waters (called upwelling)
  • shallow continental shelf and banks ideal for photosynthesis

Design an ocean "wanderer"

  1. Show students the variety of plants and animals that make up plankton and explain that they are the basis of the food chain in the sea, on which all other life depends.
  2. Although plankton are not strong swimmers, many do have adaptations for
  • keeping afloat
  • catching the wind
  • wriggling toward prey
  • capturing prey
  • and other survival strategies.

Explain that plants use the energy of the sun, and zooplankton eat phytoplankton and other zooplankton.

  1. Ask students to invent their own plankton.

They will have to make decisions about its adaptations and life style.

They can then make a picture of it and describe how it survives.

This activity is based on Create Your Own Plankton by Bette Low

  1. Have students make a list of organisms that live in the Gulf of Maine.
  2. Then draw pictures of the organisms, cut them out, and attach the pictures to strings to make "food chain" mobiles. Put the phytoplankton at the bottom and the carnivores, such as sharks and seals, at the top. (There should be many more phytoplankton than seals.)

Be sure students include phytoplankton (plant plankton) and zooplankton (animal plankton).

What will I look like when I grow up?

Many zooplankton are larval stages of familiar animals. Yet they look little like their adult stages. Try to see how these youngsters evolve into adults by doing the Plankton Match-Up.