The main text for this course will be The Seaside Naturalist by Deborah Coulombe.

Seaside naturalist

Seaside Naturalist: A Guide to Study at the Seashore

Supplementary materials will be:

  • Field guides to local flora and fauna, including but not limited to guides for local fish, seashells, plants, algae, marine  invertebrates, marine mammals, sea and shore birds, etc. Start collecting as many as you can.
  • Numerous websites which will be linked within the lesson plans for the weeks they are needed as well as added to the sidebar.
  • Various DVD’s and videos which will be linked and available through Netflix or Amazon (or perhaps your local library) or YouTube.

The main resource, however, will be the ocean. We will be using that a lot.

Additional things you will need for the course:

  • a lab notebook. This is the one we are using: “Rite-in-the-rain” field-flex notebook (it is waterproof-very handy!)
  • A good quality microscope
  • a pair of binoculars
  • various buckets, nets, vials, trays, etc for collecting and examining specimens, most of which will be wet.
  • Snorkeling gear or at least a hand-held underwater viewer to look at underwater communities in situ.
  • a sense of adventure!

Optional but handy:

  • A plankton net and a seine net are worth the investment, but not totally necessary.
  • A boat would be handy, even if it is just a kayak or canoe.
  • an aquarium would be great!
  • If you have limited access to the ocean, you may want to think about ordering some preserved specimens from Carolina Biological to examine. They have great algae collections (order these live if possible, not preserved), fish, sponges,sea anemones, squid, jellyfish, starfish, sea urchin, sea cucumber, horseshoe crab, blue crab…you name it!


  1. One of our favorite books of all time!! I am bemusing the fact that I am stuck inland up north this year!

  2. We are an hour and a half away from the beach …will this be a problem?

    • It depends. This course is specifically designed to be as hands-on as possible. How willing are you to make regular trips to the shore for fieldwork? Weekly should be plenty, or even bi-weekly if you plan it out well I think. There are also ways you could adapt some of the activities when you can’t make it to the ocean, such as ordering some specimens from Carolina biological, setting up a saltwater tank at home, etc. I’d be happy to brainstorm with you on ways to adapt specific activities as they come up.

      • Thank you! I think we can manage to get down there…my daughter really wants to do this. So we are in. Thanks for doing this!!!

  3. What do you recommend for the specifications for a microscope? I haven’t a clue.

    Where does one buy a plankton net and a seine net?

    Ack! 🙂

    Thank you so much for sharing! This is totally awesome!

    • Home science tools has some nice microscopes for a good price. We have one from there. Plankton and seine nets can be bought at various science/nature supply stores. I’d just Google around for the best price.

  4. Hi Theresa,
    We live too far from the ocean to go regularly, but we are going to do as much as we can without the ocean. Then, we are taking one trip to the ocean sometime in September or October to go out on a science research boat. We plan to spend the night, so I will plan to do as many of the hands on things for the first few months during that trip. Do you think that may work? It’s mid-Atlantic oceanside area. I will be doing this with a co-op group – I really appreciate having your wonderful plans! I’m wondering about your idea for a salt water tank set-up. Would you have time to tell me what that might involve?
    God bless

    • Sure, Margot.
      I think perhaps some options for those without regular ocean access might be to get some preserved specimens from Carolina Biological. They have everything from seaweed to starfish to sharks, in order to do some of the detailed sketches and observations of anatomy. Perhaps some live algae would be nice, too.
      And then my thoughts on setting up a saltwater aquarium were so that some behaviors could be observed and perhaps some experiments done with the organisms in a tank environment. Of course, you could always just visit an aquarium or nature center, or even a pet store, and make observations there if necessary. Whole fish can be gotten from the grocery, as well as crabs, shrimp and oysters, squid, etc. Without regular access to the ocean you’ll just have to be a bit creative in how you get your hands on things.
      Very cool that you will be going on a research vessel! I hope you can share more about that opportunity with the group!

  5. Hi Theresa,
    Erin from Seven Little Australians plus one put me onto this because we are going to be studying the ocean next term and first term next year (Australian spring/ summer. My question is how relevant is the Seaside Naturalist to someone in Australia? Is it specifically American or is it suitable to use in other countries?

    • HI Deanne,
      I think most of the book will be relevant. The majority of the information is of a general nature and should apply anywhere. Where you will run into issues will be in species identification, as the examples in the book are specific to the east coast of North America. You can get around that by having local field guides as a substitute for the book when doing identifications. In fact, even here on the US east coast we need to supplement with good local field guides for ID’s. I have several that I am using since the book does not include many of the Caribbean species we get here in the Keys. I know that several folks in the pacific northwest are having to do the same.

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