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Riley and Steve Hathaway want to change the way young people think and act towards the ocean. Their vision is to “Inspire kids to enjoy and care for the world’s oceans”.

Science ideas and concepts in Young Ocean Explorers

In between the smiles, light-hearted banter and stunning underwater shots, Riley introduces a number of important science concepts:

  • A habitat is the natural home or environment of a living thing.
  • In a food web, energy and nutrients are passed from one living thing to another.
  • Adaptation is an evolutionary process in which an organism becomes well suited to living in a particular habitat.

Resources on the Science Learning Hub provide an in-depth means to further explore these concepts.

Marine habitats

Riley explores several marine habitats. In Harbours (episode 2), she discovers a busy underwater city that acts as a crèche for young fish, providing them with food and protection.

While exploring the kelp forests in episode 8, Riley finds snails, shrimps, crabs and sponges living among the seaweed.

New Zealand’s marine environment is incredibly diverse and is made up of a large number of habitats. Different habitats have different characteristics due to wave action, light, temperature substrate (sandy or muddy) and other factors. For example, Sandager’s wrasse fish (episode 6) need a habitat with a sandy floor, as this is where they sleep. Sea turtles (episode 9) visit New Zealand but don’t live here because the water is too cold.

Learn more about aquatic habitats

A habitat is the specific natural area in which an organism or group of organisms live and breed. These Hub resources provide more information about aquatic habitats.
Marine habitats
Habitats in the Bay of Plenty
Life on a reef

Activity ideas

Students learn about the characteristics of three marine habitats (harbour, surf beach and rocky shore) and match plants and animals with each habitat, according to their adaptive features.
Where do I live?

Students discuss how a variety of everyday objects serve as metaphors for the characteristics and functions of estuaries.
Estuary metaphors

In this interactive activity, students construct the ideal habitat for crab larvae to resettle.
Home for a crab

Marine food web

As Riley learns about rays (episode 1), crayfish (episode 3), orcas (episode 4) and sharks (episode 10), she mentions the food these creatures like to eat – and what eats them as well. In any food web, energy and nutrients are passed from one living thing to another. Food webs vary according to habitat, but all food webs have some things in common.

Primary producers make up the base of a food web. Phytoplankton, seaweeds like kelp (episode 8) and seagrasses make their own food by converting energy from the Sun through photosynthesis. Consumers cannot make their own food so they need to get food from other sources. For example, Riley tells us that rays eat shellfish, crabs and fish, but in turn, rays are eaten by sharks and orcas. Another important but often overlooked part of the food web is the decomposers. Bacteria and other organisms break down dead plants and animals, releasing the nutrients back into the ecosystem.

Learn more about marine food webs

Food webs show the networks of feeding relationships between organisms that live in a particular habitat. These Hub resources provide more information about marine food webs.
Marine food webs
The bottom of the food chain
Understanding food webs in Fiordland
Tuna sandwich

Activity ideas

Students build their own food web using images of organisms from the marine ecosystem. The activity can be completed indoors or outside.
Build a marine food web

This activity is a practical way for students to understand the complexity of food webs.
Making a food web

This interactive diagram explores food webs and other aspects of life in the sea.
Marine ecosystem

Adaptations of marine creatures

Riley explains some of the unusual characteristics of creatures found in New Zealand’s seas. These characteristics enable the creatures to live in a particular environment and are often referred to as adaptations. Adaptations are generally grouped into three main categories: structural, physiological and behavioural.

Structural adaptations are the physical features of the organisms. For example, crayfish (episode 3) have spiky exoskeletons for protection because everyone wants to eat them! Kelp (episode 8) has honeycomb cells filled with air to help it bounce back from ocean waves. Kelp’s slimy coating protects it when the tide is out. Rays (episode 1), dolphins (episode 7) and sharks (episode 10) all have specialised teeth and eyesight to help them hunt or survive being hunted.

Physiological adaptations enable an organism to regulate how its body functions. For example, Sandager’s wrasse fish (episode 6) are all born female, but if a group’s male dies, the ‘bossiest’ female in the group becomes a male fish within 2 weeks.

Behavioural adaptations are learned or inherited behaviours that help an organism survive. For example, adult orcas (episode 4) teach their young how to hunt in groups and communicate with others in their pod to surround their prey.

Learn more about marine adaptations

Adaptation is an evolutionary process in which an organism becomes well suited to living in a particular habitat. These Hub resources provide more information about marine adaptations.
Adaptations of marine organisms
Adapting to marine habitats

Activity ideas

Explore some of the adaptations fish use for camouflage.
Hiding in plain sight

Use reading skills to locate and integrate information about animal and plant adaptions, and use these to design a unique animal or plant.
Animal and plant adaptations

Nature of science

Scientific understanding is based on observations of the world around us from which interpretations are made. Riley’s first-hand observations and interviews with experts provide examples that help illustrate and explain fundamental marine science concepts.

Useful links

Visit Te Ara website to learn more about these topics:

Go here to purchase a copy of the Young Ocean Explorers DVD and Love Our Ocean book.

    Published 23 January 2016 Referencing Hub articles