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Life In Ruins

Nature is the ultimate recycler. Whether it’s blades of grass breaking up asphalt to reach sunshine, or the numerous tiny insects devouring the wood of an old farmhouse, nothing goes to waste. It’s the same with marine life. For example, the sunken ship which becomes, in just a few years, an artificial reef teeming with fish and invertebrates. Sometimes abandoned structures like building, bridges or ships actually become ecosystems in miniature.

How Nature Reclaims What We Leave Behind

If you’re looking for an interesting school project or activity on observing nature, you might consider looking at life in an abandoned place.

But first, a word of warning. Abandoned places are often dangerous, so you need to make sure you’re not putting yourself in harm’s way. Take a parent or another responsible adult with you and do not go climbing in or around any abandoned structure unless you know it’s safe. Remember that the purpose of this exercise is to observe and catalogue different species of plants and animals, not to endanger yourself or others. Before you head out, review our Outdoor Etiquette and Outdoor Safety guidelines.

After you have taken all the necessary precautions and have parental assistance, then follow these simple steps:

Locate an abandoned human structure. For an aquatic environment, this doesn’t have to be a sunken ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, of course. It could be something as simple as an old shipwreck on a public beach, a deserted pier at the edge of a duck pond, or a forgotten fishing shack at the local lake.

Record your observations. To help, download and print the Oceanscape Network’s Get Out! A Guide to Doing Fieldwork and Outdoor Observation Sheet. Spend as long as you can at the site. Record how each animal and plant species appears to be using the abandoned structure, (for example: “birds sit on the gutters” or “ferns are growing on the wooden roof.”) Keep in mind that some species of plants and animals may be very small (like ants and lichens) and will require you to look more carefully.

Analyze your findings. Look over your checklist and formulate conclusions about how the animals you saw interacted. For example, did the presence of crabs attract birds which might feed on them? Were tall structures more or less likely to appeal to birds of prey like Red-tailed Hawks? Did the structure provide the observed animals with food, shelter or both? How were plants breaking apart or using the structure to grow? Did you find any evidence of animals using the area to nest and rear young?

Choose a Life in Ruins Location to Visit:

The Oceanscape Network will provide some suggested you can visit on the Oregon Coast and in adjacent areas. All of these areas are open to the public, but local conditions can change so practice good safety procedures. Click on a link to learn more about that Life In Ruins site. Check back periodically as we add additional sites to the list.

North Coast

The West Battery

Central Coast

Yaquina City and Paradise Lost

South Coast

Wreck of the Mary D. Hume

Inland Areas

Golden’s Tarnished Ecosystem

Miscellaneous Areas

Fort Columbia

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Download the Get Out! A Guide To Doing Fieldwork

Doing fieldwork can be one of the most exciting and rewarding parts of science. This student guide will give you the opportunity to connect with your local environment or community, gain different perspectives, meet new people, and practice various science skills.

Download An Outdoor Observation Worksheet

Whether for school or just for fun, this easy-to-use worksheet will help you record and catalogue the species you find outdoors.