Lesson Plan and Materials: Managing a Mess of Cumulative Effects



This hands-on scenario was developed to introduce students to the concept of cumulative effects, why cumulative effects are a linchpin to managing for coastal impacts, and the challenges associated with managing for cumulative effects when faced with limited time and resources. By engaging in decisions while confronted by these cumulative effects challenges, students learn to apply the scientific and policy principles necessary to make their own management decisions. Coastal ecosystem management involves consideration of some of the most biologically diverse marine habitats, including kelp forests, seagrasses and coral reefs. These ecosystems also represent a major interface of human activities and marine ecosystems, and are subject to impacts from both land and sea activities. Addressing cumulative effects in coastal ecosystem remains a challenge to both scientists and resource managers. Understanding why the challenge exists is an important first step in moving forward towards better integration of cumulative effects in future planning. 

Full Lesson Plan  PDF

Mach, M.E., Reiter, S.M., & Good, L. H. (2015). Managing a mess of cumulative effects: linking science and policy to create solutions. Current: The Journal of Marine Education, 29(2), 26-31.


By the end of this lesson, students will:

•      Define cumulative effects in coastal and marine systems

•      Discuss and share approaches for determining both baseline (e.g., historic, existing, future) and geographic scale (local, regional, global)

•      Apply scientific data of coastal ecosystems (e.g., species diversity, habitat diversity, heterogeneity, key species, connectivity of species) in a decision-making process

•      Engage in collaborative discussion, whilst actively debating ideas in cooperative interdisciplinary teams

•      Identify key components of environmental decision-making context and application of science to real world situation



11-12th Grade/Undergraduate/Graduate; students in environmental /marine science or policy



Resource Management, Cumulative Effects, Ocean Literacy, Marine Conservation



  • A.   101 Science of Cumulative Effects Presentation & Script  PPT | PDF | DOC | PDF

    B.    101 Law of Cumulative Effects Analysis Presentation & Script   PPT | PDF | DOC | PDF

    C.    Scenario Introduction Presentation & Script   PPT | PDF | DOC | PDF

    D.   Participant Materials and Agenda   PDF | DOC

    E.    Scenario Instructions and Description   PDF | DOC

    F.    Newfishland Map and Impact Matrix   PDF

    G.   Agency Guidance   PDF | DOC

    H.   Report Out Sheet   PDF | DOC

    I.     Reflection Exercise    PDF | DOC



3-4 hours



Common Core State Standards for Reading in Science and Technical Subjects: Grades 11-12

Standard 2.     Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.

Standard 7.     Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Standard 9.     Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.



Principle 1.   The Earth has one big ocean with many features

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

Principle 6.  The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected

e.   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 leads to pollution (point source, nonpoint 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.

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.



Megan Mach, Ph.D.

Sarah M. Reiter, M.Sc./J.D.

Laura H. Good, Ph.D.


Permission has been granted to The Center for Ocean Solutions to post the article "Managing a Mess of Cumulative Effects: Linking Science and Policy to Create Solutions" written by Megan Mach, Sarah Reiter, and Laura Good in Current: The Journal of Marine Education (Vol. 29, No. 2, June 2015) published by the National Marine Educators Associations (NMEA). For more information about the NMEA, please visit www.marine-ed.org.

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