Antarctica/Exploration ICEBLOCK/Teachers Backpack/Coastal Food Pyramid Activity

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Coastal Food Pyramid Activity

(could be adapted to other ecosystems)


  • To look at the way the food pyramid works and how it can be affected by human activities
  • To explore the relationships between different elements of an ecosystem

You need:

  • Cards with words & pictures (if possible) of the plants and creatures in the food chain e.g. phytoplankton, zooplankton, seaweed next, krill, crayfish, sponges, sprats, kina, scallop, paua, leatherjacket, penguin, barracouta, snapper, fur seal, dolphin, black Marlin, blue shark . You need more of those at the base of the food chain and only one or two of those at the top.


(thinking about what we already know)

Ask students what they know about a coastal food pyramid – what kinds of animals would it contain? Who would eat who? What would be at the base of the pyramid? The top? What things might interfere with the pyramid?

Explain that the following activity is to explore some of those relationships and consider what activities might influence or alter the food pyramid. It also explores the place of people in an ocean ecosystem and how some of our activities might impact on it.


(thinking about knowledge and developing new understandings)

  • Give everyone a food web card.
  • Create a triangle on the ground that everyone can fit into.
  • Have participants arrange themselves into a food pyramid based on the information given on the cards – i.e. who eats who. The phytoplankton goes on the long edge, with the zooplankton, krill and seaweed next, followed by: crayfish, sponges, sprats, kina, scallop, paua, leatherjacket, penguin, barracouta, snapper, fur seal, dolphin, black Marlin and finally blue shark.
  • Make sure that the pyramid is quite tight and that what feeds on one thing is immediately next to it.
  • Discuss the shape of the pyramid and the placement of the plants and top predators.


(thinking about what we have learnt)

  • Who eats who? What does the shark eat? What does the snapper eat? What is at the bottom of the pyramid? What do they need to survive? How does it feel to be part of this food web? Who feels a little bit threatened or vulnerable? Who feels comfortable and happy with their place in the food chain?

Experience 2

(building on knowledge and developing new ideas)

  • Discuss what activities people do that might interact either positively or negatively with the food pyramid e.g. long line fishing, set netting, dredging, marine farming, marine reserves, decreased water quality from rivers, introduced pests such as marine algaes, a scallop dredge, a set net, a long line net with too many hooks on it, contaminant from the land coming down through the river/harbour, people gathering too many shell fish, people taking too many fish, people spill their diesel or petrol when refilling their boats.etc.
  • Use one of the examples and act it out on the food pyramid for example An oil spill would block all the light and the phytoplankton wouldn’t be able to grow.
  • Take this one event and consider the consequences for the remainder of the pyramid As animals and plants are identified as being eaten they need to move out of the pyramid.
  • When there are substantial holes, return all the participants to the food pyramid and repeat with another example
  • After each activity ask for feedback about how they might feel if they were that animal and what things might they try to do to ensure their survival.

Reflection 2

(thinking about what we have learnt and applying our new ideas)

Deconstruct the Food Pyramid and have the participants consider the following reflection questions:

  • What food chains can you name from the activity?
  • What things interfere or alter the food pyramid?
  • What influence and or impact do people have on an ocean ecosystem?
  • What influences by people do you consider acceptable? Why?
  • What actions would lead to sustainability of our ocean resources