A Drone's Eye View of the Ocean: Lesson Plan

Infer how human activities may impact the environment and consider an example of human impact by studying Dr. David Johnston’s research. 

UNC-TV Media

Video:   A Drone's Eye View of the Ocean
               Gray Seal Tracking

Reporter's Blog:   Drones give better view of the 'Ghost Fleet'
                                  What's my Story: Marine Conservation Biologist 

Alignment to NC Essential Standards

  • Bio.2.2.1 — Infer how human activities (including population growth, pollution, global warming, burning of fossil fuels, habitat destruction and introduction of nonnative species) may impact the environment.

Learning Outcomes

Time Allotment Needed: 5 days (block schedule)

Students will describe how human activities including population growth, pollution, global warming, burning of fossil fuels, habitat destruction and the introduction of nonnative species can impact the environment.

Essential Questions

  1. How can human population growth impact the environment? 
  2. How does burning fossil fuels impact the environment?
  3. How can pollution impact the environment?
  4. How does global warming impact the environment?
  5. How does habitat destruction impact the environment?
  6. How can the introduction of a nonnative species impact an ecosystem?

Essential Vocabulary

  • Pollution 
  • Greenhouse gas 
  • Global warming 
  • Habitat destruction
  • Nonnative species
  • Invasive species


Dr. David Johnston of Duke University is tracking gray seal movement, learning more about how the seals interact with their environment as well as with humans in terms of fisheries, and the equipment and fish involved in those operations. Students will watch the NC Science Now video Gray Seal Tracking. After watching the video, answer and discuss the following questions as a class. 

  1. What human activity impacted gray seals in the Cape Cod region in the 1800s? What happened? 
  2. How was the gray seal population in Cape Cod able to make a comeback? 
  3. How are the gray seals interacting with humans now? 
  4. What does Dr. Johnston hope to learn from his research?


Divide students into six groups and assign each group a different human activity and its impact on the environment to research (population growth, burning fossil fuels, pollution, global warming, habitat destruction, introduction of nonnative species).  Students should take notes in order to answer these questions:

  1. Explain more about the background of the human activity you were assigned.
  2. How is the activity affecting the environment? How is it affecting biodiversity? How is it affecting the health of ecosystems? 
  3. Include one specific example of how the activity you were assigned has impacted the environment.


After students have completed their research in the Explore section, each group will present the human activity they researched to the rest of the class. Give students time to prepare a presentation in the form of their choice, such as a video, slide show, a play or other performance, a debate or a demonstration.  



Students will watch the NC Science Now video A Drone’s Eye View of the Ocean to find out about Dr. Johnson’s use of drones to advance his research. After watching the video, hold a short class discussion that can include the following questions:

  1. Describe two ways in which drones capture details about the life of whales. 
  2. What did drones that flew by Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket discover about gray seal pups?
  3. What did drones that flew off the coast of Beaufort discover about the western end of Shackelford bay?
  4. Describe the ways in which comparing current images to studies taken long ago contribute to scientific inquiry.


Students will work in their same collaborative groups to create a five-question test based on their presentation from the Explain section. Make enough copies to distribute each test to the other groups. Have the students in each group work together to answer the questions on each of the six tests. Have each group present the answers to the test and allow students to ask questions and hold further discussions as needed.