Coastwatch Classroom is a new educational resource for teachers and students in grades 6 to 12 that expands on select articles from Coastwatch magazine. We’ll continue to add new Coastwatch Classroom content here, along with links to the Coastwatch material it accompanies.

For more free resources for teachers and students in North Carolina, you can also visit Coastwatch Education.

Blood Draw at the Horseshoe Corral (Autumn 2020)

Read the article online and/or access the article’s PDF.

North Carolina Standard Course of Study

8th grade science:

8.L.1.1 Summarize the basic characteristics of viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites relating to the spread, treatment and prevention of disease.

8.L.2.1 Summarize aspects of biotechnology, including:

Specific genetic information available


Economic benefits to North Carolina

Ethical issues

Implications for agriculture

Ocean Literacy Standards

1 The Earth has one big ocean with many features.

1.h Although the ocean is large, it is finite and resources are limited.

5 The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.

6 The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.

6.b The ocean provides food, medicine, and mineral and energy resources. It supports jobs and national economies, serves as a highway for transportation of goods and people, and plays a role in national security.

Guiding Questions

Use the article, as well as the resources below, to respond to the following focus questions.

  1. What other organisms are closely related to horseshoe crabs?
  2. What ecological niche does the horseshoe crab fill?
  3. Describe the relationship between horseshoe crabs and red knots.
  4. Compare and contrast indoor and outdoor aquaculture of horseshoe crabs. Why did the researchers experiment with both systems?
  5. Why do you think that horseshoe crabs have evolved to lay thousands of eggs during a spawning session?
  6. Describe an adaptation that horseshoe crabs have that helps them survive in their environment.
  7. Discuss the pros and cons of biotechnology in today’s medical research.

Lesson Links and Resources

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission – The mission of the ASMFC is to promote the better use of fisheries along the Atlantic seaboard. This federal agency manages over 25 commercially important species, including coastal sharks, fishes, and a few arthropods. The horseshoe crab is one of the agency’s managed species. At this website, discover life history information, stock status, and management plans, as well as landing data for both biomedical and bait use.

Ecological Research & Development Group – Learn more about the conservation issues surrounding the horseshoe crab from ERDG, a nonprofit wildlife conservation organization with the primary focus to conserve the world’s four horseshoe crab species. Take a deep dive into their natural history, evolution, and value to biomedical research. The “Teacher Toolbox” tab includes hands-on activities for students.

Kepley Biosystems Inc. – Learn more about the horseshoe crab aquaculture research being conducted by Kepley Biosystems. This page delves deeper into the biomedical use of Limulus amoebocyte lysate (LAL), a valuable substance derived from the blue blood of the horseshoe crab.

Harbor Branch Marine Biomedical & Biotechnology Research – The marine lab for Florida Atlantic University includes a world-renowned marine biomedical research group that focuses on marine pharmacology. Learn more about their work here.

Facts About Horseshoe Crabs – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers this link for learning more about horseshoe crabs and their importance in the ecosystem.

Horseshoe Crab Educational Materials (all available from Delaware Sea Grant)

TED Ed Talk – This YouTube video explains more about why horseshoe crab blood is harvested.

The Ocean Today from NOAA – a series of educational videos featuring horseshoe crab research and medicines from the sea.

Project Limulus Tagging Project – a long-term research project conducted by Sacred Heart University studying the life history of the horseshoe crabs in Long Island Sound. Website includes links to lesson plans.

Additional Reading

Committee on the Ocean’s Role in Human Health. 1999. From Monsoons to Microbes: Understanding the Ocean’s Role in Human Health. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Dellinger, Anthony. 2018. “Blue Bloods Spawn New Research Partnership.” Coastwatch Currents, 8/19/2018.

Katona, Steve. 2015. “Marine Animals in Human Health: Will a Sponge Save Your Life?Ocean Health Index, 1/22/2015.

Krisfalusi-Gannon, J et al. 2018. The Role of Horseshoe Crabs in the Biomedical Industry and Recent Trends Impacting Species Sustainability. Front. Mar. Sci. 5 June 2018.

Sargent, William. 1987. The Year of the Crab: Marine Animals in Modern Medicine. New York: WW Norton & Company.

Sargent, William. 2002. Crab Wars: A Tale of Horseshoe Crabs, Bioterrorism, and Human Health. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England.

Smith, David, et al. 2017. “Conservation Status of the American Horseshoe Crab, (Limulus polyphemus): a regional assessment.” Rev Fish Biol & Fisheries (27) 135-175.

Zhang, Sarah. 2018. “The Last Days of the Blue-Blood Harvest.” The Atlantic, 5/9/2018.

Field Trip Opportunities

The North Carolina Aquariums have horseshoe crabs on display. The three aquariums reopened to the public on Sept. 14 with online-only tickets sales for specific times of entry. Contact each aquarium directly to inquire about current group admission policy.


Science Needs You: Monitoring and Assessing Water Quality Across the Neuse River Estuary-Pamlico Sound Continuum (Autumn 2020)

Read the article online and/or access the article’s PDF.

North Carolina Standard Course of Study

8th grade science:

8.E.1 Understand the hydrosphere and the impact of humans on local systems and the effects of the hydrosphere on humans.

8.E.1.3 Predict the safety and potability of water supplies in North Carolina based on physical and biological factors, including:


Dissolved oxygen


Nitrates and phosphates



8.E.1.4 Conclude that the good health of humans requires:

Monitoring of the hydrosphere

Water quality standards

Methods of water treatment

Maintaining safe water quality


8.L.3 Understand how organisms interact with and respond to the biotic and abiotic components or their environment.

HS Biology: 

Bio.2.2 Understand the impact of human activities on the environment.

Bio.2.2.1 Infer how human activities (including population growth, pollution, global warming, burning of fossil fuels, habitat destruction and introduction of nonnative species) may impact the environment.

HS Earth/Environmental Science:

EEn.2.4 Evaluate how humans use water.

EEn.2.4.2 Evaluate human influences on water quality in North Carolina’s river basins, wetlands, and tidal environments.

Ocean Literacy Standards

1 The Earth has one big ocean with many features.

1.e Most of Earth’s water (97%) is in the ocean. Seawater has unique properties. It is salty, its freezing point is slightly lower than freshwater, its density is higher, its electrical conductivity is much higher, and it is slightly basic. Balance of pH is vital for the health of marine ecosystems, and important in controlling the rate at which the ocean will absorb and buffer changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

1.g The ocean is connected to major lakes, watersheds, and waterways because all major watersheds on Earth drain to the ocean. Rivers and streams transport nutrients, salts, sediments, and pollutants from watersheds to coastal estuaries and to the ocean.

5 The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.

5.i Estuaries provide important and productive nursery areas for many marine and aquatic species.

6 The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.

6.d Humans affect the ocean in a variety of ways. Laws, regulations, and resource management affect what is taken out and put into the ocean. Human development and activity lead to pollution (point source, non-point source, and noise pollution), changes to ocean chemistry (ocean acidification), and physical modifications (changes to beaches, shores, and rivers). In addition, humans have removed most of the large vertebrates from the ocean.

6.e Changes in ocean temperature and pH due to human activities can affect the survival of some organisms and impact biological diversity (coral bleaching due to increased temperature and inhibition of shell formation due to ocean acidification).

6.g Everyone is responsible for caring for the ocean. The ocean sustains life on Earth and humans must live in ways that sustain the ocean. Individual and collective actions are needed to effectively manage ocean resources for all.

Guiding Questions

Use the article, as well as the resources below, to respond to the following focus questions.

  1. What is a citizen scientist?
  2. Why are contributions from citizen scientists useful?
  3. Describe the ecological functions of an estuary.
  4. Why are estuaries so valuable to commercial fisheries in North Carolina?
  5. Why is monitoring water quality in the Neuse River estuary important?
  6. Define the acronyms for AVPs, ModMon and FerryMon.
  7. Compare and contrast water-monitoring methods (frequency of sampling, parameters measured, collection sites, etc.) for the three projects.
  8. Explain the value of historical water quality data.

Lesson Links and Resources

iFlood Phone App for Outer Banks Area OnlyiFlood is a citizen science app that is a partnership between researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the towns of Nags Head and Duck, funded by the U.S. Coastal Research Program. iFlood submissions assist researchers in developing models for episodic flooding due to ocean storms and rainfall.

CoastSnap Beach Monitoring – Help researchers monitor beach response to changing weather and wave conditions, as well as extreme storms. This citizen science project began in Australia; its only U.S. location to participate is at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head.

North Carolina Observations in iNaturalist – Our state has its own observation section in iNaturalist, an extremely popular nature app for identifying plants and animals. By entering observations into iNaturalist, people help researchers add to their baseline knowledge about our natural world.

North Carolina King Tides Project – Citizen scientists are documenting extreme high tides or king tides with photographs. Join in the experience.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences – The museum conducts various citizen science projects onsite or remotely. Check out the opportunities at this website.

Assist with the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) – The Ocean Conservancy has coordinated the ICC since 1986, collecting over 337 million pounds of trash since its inception. Volunteer groups and individuals collect trash and data to reach the goal of trash-free seas. Check out the CleanSwell app from the Ocean Conservancy, which allows individuals who pick up ocean trash along any beach to record that trash and share information with family and friends.

Marine Debris Phone App for Collecting Data from Trash – This mobile app for tracking litter is a partnership between NOAA’s Marine Debris Program and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative at the University of Georgia. Not just for coasts, the app also allows users to enter debris collected from any waterway or coastline. Available for both iPhone and Android.

Find a Citizen Science Project that Interests You – SciStarter offers information on over 3,000 citizen science projects with a searchable database to filter by location, topic, age level, etc.

Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) – A nonprofit community-based group of volunteers working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, snow, and hail).

Citizen Science Projects for Birders – Holbrook Travel has put together a list of five projects that birders may enjoy. From watching birds at your own feeders to assisting with banding hummingbirds, there should be something for all levels of citizen scientists.

Estuary Education Resources from NERRS – Broad collection of educational materials from the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS).

Eyes on the Bay Lesson Plans – Use Chesapeake Bay remote sensing data to gather information and interpret those data that focus on salinity, dissolved oxygen, and harmful algal blooms. These activities are aligned with Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum standards for grades 6-8 and 9-12.

Bridge Ocean Science Education Data Archive – A collection of activities developed by marine education specialists with Virginia Sea Grant based on research data. The data activities below correlate with this Coastwatch article and are appropriate for grades 9-12.


lead photo courtesy of