Tidepool Diversity

Coastal Ecology—Tidepool Diversity

Summary: This activity uses common data collection methods to introduce students to how scientists study highly dense and diverse rocky intertidal populations. Written for a site near Cape Perpetua, the concepts are highly adaptable to any intertidal area, or even a habitat nearby school. Students can compare data to long term data sets collected along the Central California coast in the LiMPETS program and explore the broader context of their data collection.

Concepts to teach: Population ecology, rocky intertidal communities, vertical zonation, data collection & monitoring

Goals: Students will use standard field monitoring techniques to understand and describe the community of species that live in a rocky intertidal habitat.

H.2L.2, H.3S.2, H.3S.3

Specific Objectives: Students will be able to:

  1. Understand and explain why diversity is important and why long term data sets can help us monitor changes over time due ecological change
  2. Conduct a simple population survey along a transect of a rocky intertidal habitat
  3. Identify and describe the dominant organisms in the rocky intertidal ecosystem and where they occur
  4. Students will understand classic vertical zonation patterns in the rocky intertidal
  5. Students will use critical thinking skills to determine whether their data are consistent with published data.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Tidepool Diversity Sampling – Instructions for sampling in tidepools using transects
  • LiMPETS: Long-term Monitoring Program and Experiential Learning for Students Created by and for use in California National Marine Sanctuaries, this website provides rocky intertidal monitoring lessons and resources, research protocols and a format for data entry and analysis.
  • Instructions for making quadrats and other field equipment from South Slough NERR
  • Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport offers one hour Rocky Intertidal lab classes for Grade 5 and up. Students interact with live animals and investigate ecological relationships among species and environmental factors.


Assessment ideas in lesson plans include:

  • Summarize data in clean tables.
  • Identify dominant species that occur most frequently along the transect and create 4 line graphs that who the vertical zonation patterns of these species.
  • Present data and conclusions in a report or display.