Glencoe Life Science

Unit 5: Ecology

WebQuest Projects



If you look at a map of the eastern shoreline of the United States, you can see that the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts are lined by a series of thin, elongated islands. These islands areknown as barrier islands because they provide barriers to winds and ocean waves. These islands protect the mainland by absorbing the energy produced in hurricanes and normal winter storms. But barrier islands are not just important geological features. They also are unique ecosystems. A barrier island usually consists of a wide sandy beach facing the ocean, an area of one or more sand dunes with anchoring beach grasses and shrubs, and a wetland area that may consist of a bay, a lagoon, or a marsh that lies between the island and the mainland. These ecosystems provide feeding, mating, and nesting areas for shorebirds, commercial fish species, and shellfish such as clams, oysters, and crabs. These beaches, dunes, and wetlands also provide important recreational activities for people. The different uses of barrier islands result in disagreements about how they are to be managed. Should barrier islands be protected and left undeveloped? Should people be allowed to build homes and hotels on barrier islands?



Your job in this WebQuest is to develop an educated opinion as to whether or not people should build permanent structures on barrier islands. You will need to learn about the geological and physical nature of barrier islands, and how barrier islands change over time. You will look at development of barrier islands and find out how the beaches on these islands are maintained. You will find out how different states handle the protection or development of their barrier islands. You will also find out what happens to permanent structures that are built on barrier islands. Finally, you will form an opinion as to whether permanent structures should be built on barrier islands.

Once you have done your research, you will prepare an open letter to the editor of a newspaper in which you outline what you have learned about barrier islands and state your opinion on whether permanent structures should be built there. Your letter should include information about the geology and ecology of barrier islands as well as the changes they are subject to. Your goal is to convince readers of the newspaper that your conclusion is correct, and to encourage them to write to the appropriate agencies in support of your position.



Look at the web sites given here to find the information that will enable you to form your opinion about permanent structures built on barrier islands.

What are barrier islands and how do they form?

Florida Oceanographic Society: Barrier Islands. This site has background information on the formation of barrier islands.

The Atlantic Coastline: The Nature of Barrier Islands. Visit this web site to learn how the barrier islands of North Carolina’s Outer Banks formed.

Barrier Islands Formation: Barrier Islands and barrier beaches.

Barrier Island and Barrier Beaches. At this site you can find out more about how the barrier islands of Georgia formed.

How do barrier islands change over time?

Barrier Islands: Always Changing. Go to this site to find out how barrier islands change over time.

Eastern Barrier Islands: Terra Un-Firma. At this National Science Foundation site you can discover how storms affect barrier islands.

Mississippi Gulf Coast Barrier Islands. Here you can learn about Investigate Barrier Island Processes and the forces it took to create them.

Dynamics of Beaches and Barrier Islands. Dr. Riggs has studied their formation and movement for more than 30 years. He explains how and why barrier islands move.

Louisiana’s Barrier Islands: A Vanishing Resource. At this site you can learn about the changes in the barrier islands of Louisiana’s Gulf Coast.

How do various states handle development of barrier islands?

What kinds of development occur on barrier islands?

What happens to permanent structures built on barrier islands?



2 class periods; 40 minutes for research, 40 minutes to write letter to the editor.



Now that you have completed your research on the Internet, decide what you think should be done with barrier islands. Should these islands be developed? What types of development should be allowed? Should any kind of development be prohibited? Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper in which you develop your answers to these questions. Be sure to support your opinion with information from your Internet research. Would you build a house on a barrier island? Explain why or why not.



In the process of completing this WebQuest, you’ve become informed about the importance of barrier islands and how development of those islands impacts both economic and environmental factors. You have developed critical thinking skills as you have explored the many different factors involved in this issue. You have read information to answer key questions and formed an educated opinion. Finally, you have communicated with others the results of your investigation. Have you changed anybody’s mind about the importance of barrier islands?



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