Where Do Marine Animals Live?

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 11529

Where do marine animals live? If you said, "The ocean," you're right but there's more to it! Different animals live in different ecosystems and you'll learn enough about them to create a cool diorama!


Earth Science

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Do you know what an ecosystem is?

Whatever it is, oceans have fascinating, colorful ones, and you will make a diorama of one!

  • How did you describe an ocean ecosystem?
  • Did you say it is full of coral reefs, bright-colored fish, and diverse marine animals?

This may be true in some ocean ecosystems, but marine ecosystems vary significantly by location. Depending on factors such as temperature, depth, and relative location, ocean ecosystems can look different and be home to different living organisms.

Let's take a look at some of these ecosystems!

Before you begin reading about each of these ecosystems, create the following graphic organizer on a separate piece of paper:

Arctic Antarctic Coral Reef Deep Sea Kelp Forest























As you read the articles and information in this lesson, record any interesting facts you learn about each marine ecosystem in your graphic organizer. Try to record at least three facts about each ecosystem.

Remember, oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth, and there are many ecosystems within this vast area. Five of the most common marine ecosystems are:

  • arctic
  • Antarctic
  • coral reefs
  • deep sea
  • kelp forest

The Arctic Ocean ecosystem exists in the northern polar region of the world. Get out a map or globe or look one up using a search engine. Show your teacher or parent where you would find an Arctic Ocean ecosystem.

This ecosystem has extreme freezing temperatures year-round, and much of the ocean's surface is covered in ice. During certain seasons, it gets no sunlight at all.

These conditions make it difficult for most marine animals to survive in the region. Some marine animals you might find in this ecosystem include ringed seals, shrimp, arctic cod, cirrate octopods, and lion's mane jellyfish.

Each of these creatures has unique features that enable them to survive the harsh climate. For example, ringed seals have blubber (extra layers of fat) to keep them warm. Arctic cod produce antifreeze molecules called glycoprotein that reduce the freezing point of their body fluids.

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Aside from their location, Antarctic Ocean ecosystems are very similar to Arctic Ocean ecosystems.

The Antarctic Ocean ecosystem is located in the southern polar region of the world. Get out your map or globe again. Show your teacher or parent where the Antarctic Ocean ecosystem is located.

This marine ecosystem also boasts freezing temperatures and ice-covered seas. Surprisingly, the types of animals that live in the Antarctic Ocean ecosystem are mostly different from the animals that live in the arctic ecosystem, although they have similar characteristics that enable them to survive.

Animals that call the Antarctic Ocean ecosystem home include a variety of seals and whales including fur seals, elephant seals, blue whales, and orcas. These animals survive by producing blubber that helps keep their body warm.

Few species of fish are able to survive in the Antarctic ecosystem. Fish that do call this ecosystem home, such as the mackerel icefish and the Antarctic toothfish, secrete glycoprotein that keeps their body fluids from freezing.

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When most people hear about marine ecosystems, one of the first images that pop into their minds is a coral reef swarming with bright, colorful fish.

Coral reef ecosystems are located in warm, subtropical regions throughout the world. Most coral reef ecosystems are located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Look at the image below to get an idea of where these ecosystems can be found:


  • Did you know that coral is actually made of tiny animals called polyps?

Vist Corals at National Geographic Society to learn more about these living organisms.

Due to the warm, sunny climate, many fish call the coral reef ecosystem home. Some of these fish include queen angelfish, yellowtail snappers, stoplight parrotfish, and bicolor damselfish.

Other animals that call the coral reef ecosystem home include sea turtles, reef sharks, lobsters, and orange sea sponges.

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The next marine ecosystem is the deep sea ecosystem. To learn about the deep sea and research animals that call this part of the ocean home, check out the Elephango lesson found in the right-hand sidebar under Additional Resources.

The deep sea is more than 10,000 feet below the surface of the ocean and can extend to more than 30,000 feet below the ocean's surface. Sunlight cannot penetrate to the deep sea, and the temperature averages around freezing. There is also significant pressure pushing down on the levels of the deep sea.

Due to the depth, temperature, pressure, and complete darkness, scientists know very little about the deep sea and the creatures that live there. It is likely that all kinds of undiscovered species of animals call this ecosystem home.

Animals that scientists are aware of that live in the deep sea include giant squids, vampire squids, angler fish, sea cucumbers, viperfish, and Dumbo octopuses.

Many fish and animals that live in this ecosystem have bioluminescence that enables them to light up. Other organisms have no eyes at all because it is too dark to see anyway, and instead rely on a strong sense of smell.

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The last marine ecosystem you will study is the kelp forest ecosystem.

Kelp forests are coastal ecosystems found mostly along the west coast of North America. Get out your map or globe again. Show your teacher or parent where you might find a kelp forest ecosystem.

Kelp forest ecosystems are sometimes referred to as underwater forests because of the rows and layers of kelp that cover these waters. The kelp is so thick that it is difficult to see very far in front of you. Kelp can grow up to 20 inches per day and survives well in this region of the world, thanks to its cold, nutrient-dense water.

Many species of fish and animals call the kelp forest home, including California sea lions, sea otters, rockfish, giant kelpfish, sea urchins, and California sheepheads.

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You now know about five unique ocean ecosystems! Review your graphic organizer with your teacher or parent.

  • Which ecosystem do you find most interesting?
  • What do these ecosystems have in common?
  • What are some differences between each of the ecosystems?

Share your responses with your teacher or parent. Then, move onto the Got It? section to learn more about the animals that live in each ecosystem.

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