Seismic Surveying: Lesson Plan

Explore the impacts of seismic surveying on fish that populate the rocky reefs off the North Carolina shore. 

UNC-TV Media

Alignment to NC Essential Standards

  • 8.E.1.2 — Summarize evidence that Earth’s oceans are a reservoir of nutrients, minerals, dissolved gases and life forms.

Learning Outcomes

Students will describe the purposes and use of seismic surveys in waters off the coast of North Carolina, and will explain environmental impacts on local fish and reefs, as well as economic implications for North Carolina citizens.

Essential Vocabulary

  • Seismic surveys
  • Reefs
  • Decibels
  • Marine mammals
  • Nursery grounds
  • Predators


In 2014, UNC-TV Science reporter Frank Graff interviewed Avery Paxton, a graduate student in Marine Ecology at the University of North Carolina Institute for Marine Studies, for the UNC-TV Science video Life on the Rocks

Three years later, Graff caught up with Paxton once again, for the UNC-TV Science video Seismic Fish. Students will view both these segments, and answer questions on the attached PDF.


Students will work independently gathering information about seismic surveying for offshore wind purposes and seismic surveying for gas and oil drilling, and about the environmental impacts of each. 

The websites below are some possible places that students can find information. There are many websites available that students might find during their search.


After gathering information about the different methods of agriculture, students will work in small groups to answer questions on the attached PDF.


Students will research and report on the fish species that live off the coast of North Carolina. Have students visit North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries: Fish Identification. Assign or have students choose a fish species, and then click "Detailed Information" to learn more about it. Students may use online search engines or other reference tools to expand their research. Each student will then prepare a page for a class book about the fish of the North Carolina rocky reefs.


Students will collaborate to take part in a class discussion about seismic surveying for natural gas and oil in North Carolina and their potential effect on the rocky reefs, the fishing industry and other human interests and activities. Divide the class into small groups. Assign each group a role to play in the class discussion. 

  • Power Company Executives: The executives are interested in locating possible underwater oil and gas resources, not only for profit, but to create jobs for North Carolina citizens.
  • Environmental Groups: The mission of these groups is to protect fishes and other ocean life, and to fight pollution of all kinds. They are concerned about all human activities that affect habitats and the environment. 
  • Representatives of the North Carolina Fishing Industry: These people rely on ocean fishing to earn their living. 
  • Representatives of North Carolina Recreation and Tourism: Many of these representatives are concerned that seismic surveys and the placement of rigs for drilling that follow will ruin the view of the ocean from the shore, or that it will interfere with boating, scuba diving or other activities.
  • North Carolina State Government Officials: These officials seek to protect the interests of all the people of North Carolina, and to resolve conflicts among individuals, communities and industries.

Encourage students to research the positions of the people or interest groups that they will represent in the discussion. Then act as moderator to stage a class discussion about the idea of looking for, and drilling for, natural gas and oil wells off the North Carolina coast.