Planet ocean: articles to put the ocean centre stage on World Oceans Day Inspire article

Turning the tide: celebrate World Oceans Day in your classroom with ocean articles spanning the breadth of STEM subjects, from biology to physics.

Every year, on 8 June, the United Nations celebrates World Oceans Day to raise awareness of how much we rely on the oceans and how we need to protect them. The theme this year is Planet Ocean: Tides are Changing, with a focus on putting the ocean first. To support you in bringing the ocean into your science classes, we’ve put together a collection of ocean-related Science in School articles, with resources, engaging activities, and interesting discussions.

1. Inspire – The European Atlas of the Seas: an interactive tool for ocean literacy

Target age: 11–19
Subjects: Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, Technology

Understanding our relationship with oceans is vital to preserving them. The European Atlas of the Seas is an interactive tool – available in 24 languages – that provides various map layers showing data from Europe’s marine and coastal regions. Students can learn to use maps and to extract, analyze and present data, as well as learning about how the ocean underpins a range of important services and how human activities affect the health of the oceans. There is also a Teachers Corner that includes ready-to-use map-based exercises and fun activities such as a treasure hunt and virtual boat races.

Pick your map(s) and start exploring!

A map of Europe and its seas shows the marine traffic density, looking like a very intricate and dense web.
Image: The European Atlas of the Seas

2. Understand – Climate change: why the oceans matter

Target age: 16–19
Subjects: Chemistry, Earth science, Physics

The ocean’s profound impact on our climate also means that it plays a complicated role in climate change. Use this article to start a discussion on ocean-generated compounds and the ocean’s role as a carbon dioxide and heat sink. You can also use this article to introduce (or conclude) the teaching activities presented below about ocean acidification and rising sea levels.

A map showing the annual average water vapour concentrations across the world at surface level. They are the highest at the equator and lowest at the poles.
Image courtesy of RG Derwent, RD Scientific, UK

3. Teach – Practical ocean literacy for all: Earth science

Target age: 11–16
Subject: Earth science, Physics

The close relationship between humans and the ocean is at the heart of the ocean literacy (OL) movement. The ocean shapes life on Earth in ways many people don’t even realise, and it affects all of us, even if we live far from the coast. Furthermore, human activities, even when they take place far inland, can have a huge impact on the ocean.  These classroom activities help students explore the first three principles of OL: 

  1. Earth has one big ocean with many features.
  2. The ocean and life in the ocean shape the features of Earth.
  3. The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate.

4. Teach – An ocean in the school lab: carbon dioxide at sea

Target age: 11–19
Subject: Chemistry

It is well known that anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere acts as a greenhouse gas and contributes to global heating. However, it is perhaps less known that higher atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations also lead to ocean acidification.

These experiments illustrate the chemistry behind ocean acidification and link this important issue to the curriculum topics of acids and bases, pH, chemical equations, equilibria, and precipitation reactions.

The colours of bromothymol blue across the pH range. It gets from yellow at pH 2.1 to dark green at pH 7 and dark blue at pH 12.5
Image: Gregor Trefalt/WikimediaCC BY-SA 4.0

5. Teach – An ocean in the school lab: rising sea levels

Target age: 11–16
Subjects: Earth science, Physics

When we think of rising sea levels, we associate it with melting ice caps. This is indeed one of the causes, but not the only one. It is often forgotten that water expands, that is, its volume increases, with rising temperature.

With these activities, you can teach your students about thermal expansion and link it to rising sea levels.

Image: Silas Baisch/

6. Teach – Squid dissection: a hands-on activity to learn about cephalopod anatomy

Target age: 8–16
Subject: Biology

Evoking a sense of wonder can be a powerful way to engage students on a topic, and learning about weird and wonderful sea creatures is a great way to spark interest in ocean life. Furthermore, dissections allow students to explore with multiple senses. Squid are particularly fascinating, with their alien looks and unusual physiology.  Did you know that they have donut-shaped brains and three hearts?

This hands-on (literally) activity can be linked to numerous physiology topics, including senses, eyes/vision, and adaptations to the environment.

A squid lays on a table. Arrows point to features like fins, mantle, eyes, tentacles and arms. Zoomed chromatophores on the mantle and suction cups on the arms are shown
Image courtesy of Maria Vittoria Marra, Anna Quinn, Cushla Dromgool-Regan, Noirin Burke

7. Teach – Movers and shakers: physics in the oceans

Target age: 11–19
Subjects: Earth science, Physics

The movement and separation of water in the oceans in layers and currents has a huge impact on both marine ecosystems and the weather and even climate on land, so understanding how these work is vitally important. While some of the contributing factors are very complex, others are based on school-level physics.

With these experiments, you can use simple water tanks to explore density, stratification and internal waves, and learn about how these phenomena influence the behaviour of the oceans.

Two liquids of different densities and colours are held in a transparent container ad separated by a plastic divider. When the divider is removed, the two liquids mix and then separate into two layers based on their density (denser at the bottom)
Image courtesy of Lee Karp-Boss

Put the oceans centre stage!

The complex interplay between humans and the ocean and the vital importance of oceans to humanity can be difficult to communicate, especially if you live far from the coast. We hope that these articles will help you to tackle this crucial topic with students of all ages and across multiple subjects.

In addition, you can register for free to attend the United Nations World Oceans Day 2023 virtual event Planet Ocean: Tides Are Changing, on Thursday, 8 June. The event, starting at 4 pm CEST, will have interesting discussions, multiple perspectives and even a message from the international space station! You can also find educational resources on the UN World Oceans Day website, as well as a calendar of international events relating to World Oceans Day.



Dr Rosaria Cercola is the editorial assistant at Science in School. She has a PhD in physical chemistry and is a strong advocate for equity and ‘field-levelling’ in and out of the scientific community.

Dr Tamaryin Godinho is the executive editor of Science in School. She is passionate about science and believes that good-quality science and evidence-informed decision-making are crucial for addressing today’s challenges and building a better future.


Text released under the Creative Commons CC-BY license. Images: please see individual descriptions.

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