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Surveying beach populations using transects

Levels: 6-7
NoS achievement aims: Understanding about science icon. Understanding about science , Investigating in science icon. Investigating in science
Contextual strands: Living world icon. Living world
Topic: Rocky Shore


Zonation is a concept used by biologists to systematically describe the distribution of living things across a specified abiotic (non-living) changing environment.

By carrying out a transect activity on the rocky shore, students can work collaboratively to gather enough information to enable them to determine a pattern. At the same time they can be encouraged to think of other ways scientists collaborate to enrich their understanding.

What you need

  • A line transect (string or rope marked at regular intervals) for each group and quadrat.
  • A rocky shore area for investigation.
  • An example of how a transect and quadrat can be used.

Note: Supporting activity resources are provided below.


  • How can the students in our class work together to collect data that will allow us to compare our results in a valid way?
  • What do we need to know to specify and standardise our sampling protocols?
  • How will we determine how much data is ‘adequate’?
  • How do scientists determine how much data is ‘adequate’?
  • How might ‘adequate’ results affect the conclusions we draw at the end of the investigation?


The students work in groups to:

  1. lay out their line transect between the high and low tide marks
  2. at each interval, put down a quadrant
  3. within the quadrant, count the numbers of each species and/or the percentage coverage of rocks
  4. move to the next interval and repeat the procedure.

The students use their collected data to address the reflection questions (see below).


  • Why is one transect not sufficient to establish a zonation pattern?
  • How is what you did:
    • the same as scientists would do to establish zonation in an area?
    • different from what scientists would do to establish zonation in an area?
  • What factors had to be kept the same for each group? Why?
  • What knowledge did you need to have to collect the data?
  • How did you make sure everyone had the same understandings about how to sample?
  • What type(s) of environmental gradient contribute to zonation on the rocky shore?
  • If you were looking to quickly establish zonation patterns in your local area, what five species would you choose to sample and why?

Activity resources

  • Diagram illustrating how to set up a transect line.

PDF icon. Setting up a transect line (PDF 81 KB)