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Coastal activities

Use our coastal activities to find out more about coasts and coastal life in the Waikato region.

Students participating in costal activities at the beach

A Coasts and Us resource unit is also available to schools in the Waikato region.

Free the sea

You can download Free the sea, an inquiry based educational resource below:

Free the sea (5,716 kb)

Fish scales

Going fishing over the holidays? Have you ever looked closely at the scales of the fish you catch?

Did you know that:

  • fish scales are made up of two layers, an outer sort of bony layer and an inner threadlike layer which contains calcium compounds?
  • as the fish grows the scales grow in thickness and size by material being added to the bony part of the scale?
  • the material that gets added forms lines of growth? You should be able to see these lines with a magnifying glass.

Use a magnifying glass to look at scales from different types of fish. Think about what use the scales are to the fish.

Fish scales come in a variety of shapes. Some are diamond shaped or rhomboid; others are more or less circular while others are circular with a row of small teeth on one edge.

  • Look to see if different species of fish have different shaped scales. Try looking carefully under the scales to see if anything else is living there.
  • You can wash the scales in fresh water and then dry them and mount them on a card.


Have you ever thought about the fact that people often use seaweed as food?

Next time you visit the supermarket look at some of the processed food that you can buy and see whether it has seaweed or algal products in it. You could also visit a specialist Asian food shop and look at the different types of seaweed available to eat.


Plankton can be interesting to look at with your magnifying glass. An easy way to collect some is make a plankton net.

Make a net to catch plankton:

  • Cut off one leg of a pair of pantyhose.
  • Try to use fine pantyhose without any holes in them.
  • Get an old wire coathanger and untwist it.
  • Make the wire into a circle and twist the ends together.
  • You may need pliers to do this.
  • Cut off any surplus wire.
  • Pull the open end of the pantyhose leg over the wire, fold it and stitch it over the wire frame.
  • Now cut a small (about 11.5 cm) hole in the other end of the leg.
  • Stretch that hole over the jar. Tie it in place with some string.
  • Next, attach some string leads to opposite sides of the wire frame so that you can pull the net along.
  • These pieces of string need to be quite long so that you can place the jar in the water and quietly pull it along.
  • Look at what ends up in the jar.
  • Use your magnifying glass. Also try washing the pantyhose gently so that anything in them gets washed into the jar.
Greg Walker is a 1996 Science Teacher Fellow. This information was taken from NZ Science Monthly, Dec/Jan 1996/97. For a free sample copy (also enquire about classroom sets), write to Freepost 106, NZ Science Monthly, Box 19760, Christchurch.

Dune care code

Remember when you visit our wonderful coastal areas to follow the dune care code!

Clean up day

Become involved in a beach clean up. Pick up and record litter and other rubbish that does not belong on the beach.

The results from the clean up can be used in class discussions.

  • Where did it come from?
  • How did it get onto the beach?
  • How may it be harmful to the environment?
  • Flow charts describing the pathway the categories of rubbish may have taken to get to the beach may be constructed.
  • Send the results to us at Environment Waikato so they may help to identify and solve the problem of pollution and rubbish on the beaches.

Map the flight path taken by arctic migrants

The estuarine area around Miranda on the Firth of Thames has international significance because it is a place where thousands of northern hemisphere birds come to avoid their winter.

Find out the other places in the world where these birds stop off to rest and feed before settling in Miranda for a few months.

  • On a world map (or create your own), trace this pathway across the world.
  • Name all the countries and cities that the different species of birds are likely to visit.
  • Then work out how far (in kilometres) they have flown to get here.
  • Write underneath the map the reasons why these birds would want to fly all that way to Miranda.
  • What is so good about Miranda? Hint: estuarine environments are four times more productive than good ryegrass pasture and 20 times more productive than the open ocean.
  • What happens if one of the places they stop to rest on the way was developed into a tourist resort, a farm or drained to build a shopping plaza? Why do you think it would be important to protect Miranda from pollution or development?

Make an estuary/sandy shore/rocky shore environment board

  • Using corrugated cardboard at least 25 cm by 25 cm for each person as a base, make slits in the cardboard.
  • Then cut some thin cardboard into squares with “tabs” at the bottom of each, so they can slide into the slits on the corrugated cardboard base.
  • On each of the thin cardboard squares draw something that is present in a healthy coastal environment (estuary, soft or rocky shore).
  • Then on the back of the piece of cardboard draw a picture of a negative influence on that “healthy” idea. For example, on one side could be a healthy fish and on the other side a fisher, or on the healthy side a mangrove and on the other a cow from a nearby farm etc.
  • Once all the thin cardboard pieces are finished, slide them into the slits on the base so that when looking at it front-on all the “healthy” things can be seen, and when looking from the back all the negative impacts can be seen.
  • Discuss the drawings and why the children chose what they did. (Instead of drawing by hand, pictures could be cut out of old magazines and stuck onto the thin cardboard squares.)

Draw a mural of a coast

On the mural label as many landforms, animals and plants with their corresponding Maori names. Make the labels removable, so that each member of the class could have one or two labels to place on the mural themselves.

Construct a coastal profile

An activity while at the coast:

  • On a rocky or sandy shore, place a tape measure at the landward side of the beach (careful not to disturb plants, especially dune binding plants) and the other end at low tide.
  • Working at 4m intervals and starting at the low tide mark, record what was found in a half metre square around that interval.
  • Record animals, plants, crevices, drops in elevation, rock pools, rocks, sand or pebbles etc.
  • Do this at each of the intervals.
  • Always have someone in the group watching the incoming tide and waves.
  • Record as much as you can before the tide comes up to that point.
  • When the recording is completed up to the land, measure the change in elevation from the low tide point to the land point.
  • Using all of this information, construct a profile by drawing a cross-section diagram with the length of the profile along the bottom axis and elevation on the vertical axis.
  • Draw whatever was recorded at the intervals (rock pools, plants etc.) and join lines in between down the shore.
  • This should result in a picture of a cross-section of the beach, how its shape changes from the shore to the sea and the plants and animals found at certain levels on the shore.

Contact a beachcare group

Ask a Beachcare group member to come and talk about the beach that they look after. Show where it is using a map. What have they done and what do they plan to do to help protect it?

Ask a Beachcare group member when the next planting day is and ask if your class could help to protect the valuable dunes.

Stop and listen

Lie on the beach with your eyes closed. Be quiet and still, and then try to identify all the noises and smells. What can you hear and/or smell that belongs in the coastal environment? What does not belong here?