Survival in an Estuary

Estuary background image with color overlay


In this activity, students investigate the range of conditions that selected animal and plant species need to survive in an estuary. They examine data for abiotic factors that affect life in estuaries—salinity, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and pH. Students use archived data (trend analysis graphs) and real-time conditions at Elkhorn Slough to predict whether a particular animal or plant species could survive in an estuary.

This activity has four parts:

  1. The Estuarine Environment
  2. Surviving Changes: Abiotic Factors That Affect Life
  3. Surviving in an Estuary: Extreme Conditions
  4. Optional: Investigating Other Research Reserves

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Students should understand that:

  • Describe three types of estuarine environments.
  • Describe the particular environmental conditions necessary for organisms to survive in an estuary.
  • List four principal abiotic factors that influence the survival of aquatic life in estuaries.
  • Determine the range of pH, temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen tolerated by some common estuarine species.

Survival in an Estuary: Supporting Resources

So What is an Estuary, So Now You Know


The NERRS System-wide Monitoring Program


Map: Google Earth


Google Earth is a virtual globe web site that lets people fly around Earth, zooming in for details or zooming out for a broad perspective. Google Earth uses satellite imagery, aerial photography and a 3D globe, putting the world’s geographic information at your fingertips. With Google Earth, you can:

  • Fly to any location. Just type in an address, press Search, and you will zoom right in.
  • Search different types of terrain and study geologic and estuary features from any altitude.
  • Tilt and rotate the view to see 3D terrain.
  • Save your searches and image data for future use.

Google Earth is a powerful tool for exploring your world. In your study of estuaries, it can be used to reveal the relationships among landforms, water features, towns, cities, and the habitats of the animals and plants that live in estuaries.

Finding NERRS Estuaries

A map of the United States has been marked with the location of all National Estuarine Research Reserves. To find one nearest your location, open up the Reserves.kmz/Google Earth program. Make sure that terrain and geographic features are checked under Layers. Look for circles or pins that indicate the location of NERRS sites. Double click on one that interests you. You can then zoom in and investigate the reserve you have chosen.