Coastal Ecology—Salt Marsh Mania

Summary: In this activity, students will explore the range of diversity of salt marsh plants. As an introduction, students will learn how to draw and describe key characteristics of familiar plant samples in the classroom. In the field, students will work to observe salt marsh diversity through a variety of sampling techniques using the skills learned in the classroom. While botany, the study of plants, is a complex and expansive discipline, marshes are accessible and excellent starting points for students to begin to appreciate the subtle diversity of structure and the purpose of adaptation. The marsh is generally accessible without specialized footwear or boats. Marsh plants are typically low enough that the entire community of plants can be viewed and examined easily and a sampling transect and plots can be established without difficulty.

Concepts to teach: Marine and coastal ecosystems, salt marsh communities, cycles, adaptations, classification, data collection.

Goals: Students will discover the many different types of plants that have adapted to life in a tidal marsh through careful observation and discovery.

4.2L.1, 5.2L.1, 4.2E.1, 3.3S.1, 3.3S.3, 5.3S.2, 5.3S.3

Specific Objectives:

  1. Students will be able to define: adaptation, characteristic and salt marsh
  2. Students will understand in a simple way to test diversity within one zone of the estuary.
  3. Students will gain experience making careful observations to distinguish physical difference and characteristics between species of marsh plants
  4. Students will understand how sampling a subset is used to make observations about a larger area.

Activity Links and Resources:


  • Examine student field journals and data graphs for completeness.