Coastal Controversy

To Fence Or Not To Fence


Role playing a meeting of people concerned about erecting a fence to set aside a protected coastal habitat community


Students will be able to evaluate the pros and cons of fencing off a coastal habitat community.


Class set of copies of the background information, copies of the role descriptions, and any props you would like to use to make it more realistic.


The state wants to fence off 1000 acres of valuable coastal wetlands to prevent further damage to it and the species that depend on it. The area includes several habitat types, including seagrass beds, oyster reefs, salt marsh, tidal flats (such as algal, mud and sand flats) and upland areas. People do not realize the importance of these habitats and the diversity of life found there. The algal flats are a rich source of food for birds. The seagrass beds are one of the most productive areas on earth, and important as nursery areas for many fish and shellfish. It is an important nesting and feeding area for many birds, some threatened and endangered. People disturb the birds and alter the habitat by driving vehicles through there, allowing pets to roam unrestricted, dumping garbage, and operating other recreational vehicles such as jet skis in the vicinity. The people in the area are against fencing it off because they believe it is their right to have access to it.


  1. Go over the background information with the class, possibly taking turns reading aloud.
  2. You may wish to show pictures of the habitat types and birds and other animals found there.
  3. Assign roles from the description cards or tell them they can be audience members, reporters, or townspeople. You may want to assign some students to be commissioners to vote at the end, or have the entire class vote. Pick one person to be the chairperson of the meeting. They must be able to keep the meeting in reasonable order.
  4. Give them a list of speakers and have them call on them one by one to tell their side of the story. After each one has presented their side, have the chairperson ask for comments and discussion from the audience. Have the chairperson take a vote on whether or not to fence in the area.
  5. Lead a class discussion on what was learned. Point out how this method is used in real life.


  1. You may want to take a real issue from your area and adapt it to this format.
  2. Bring in newspaper articles about similar topics.
  3. Invite a guest speaker in to talk about a related issue.

 Create Personal Data Cards from the following information.

Rosie Spoonbill

an elderly birdwatcher from Canada who enjoys keeping a life list of all the birds that she has seen. She is for fencing off the area to protect the many birds who use the algal flats to feed and the salt marsh to nest and raise their chicks.

D. Dee Veloper

a wealthy developer who wants to buy all of the wetland areas for sale because they are cheap and perfect for paving over for parking lots and grocery stores.

Al . G. Flat

a biologist who is aware of the rich diversity of life found in this area, with its various habitat types, including seagrass beds, oyster reefs, algal flats, mud and sand flats, salt marsh, transitional vegetation areas, and upland areas. His goal is to protect the area in its natural condition.

Wade Fisher

represents the sports fishermen who resent anyone limiting their vehicular access to the area. They feel that it is their right as tax payers and purchasers of fishing licenses.

Four-Wheelin' Steven

his favorite pastime is driving his four-wheeler over algal flats and salt marshes, creating ruts which alter the habitat and endangers baby chicks.

Lupe Lawman

the game warden enforcer of all the fish and wildlife rules and regulations that apply to the site. He keeps an eye out for all poachers and destroyers of habitat.

Diane Daisysaver

environmentalist who loves the sea ox -eye daisy found in the salt marsh and transitional areas. She opposes unrestricted access by recreational vehicles which destroy her beloved flowers. She is for fencing off the area.

K. Karanchawa

Native American who wants to preserve the sacred ancestral grounds in their untouched condition. Some of the plants found in the wetland habitat may have medicinal and nutritional value.

Chris Cordgrass

is for fencing off the area to preserve the native plant species, and preventing development which could bring in foreign species that often displace the natural biodiversity. Favorite pastime is planting smooth cordgrass along the shoreline to prevent erosion.

Pat Playtime

loves to jet-ski through the area. This disturbs the wildlife and can disrupt nesting birds. It also poses safety concerns. Pat believes in free access to the area.

Redhead Fred

loves to go duck hunting. He resents fencing because it will designate the area as a preserve, preventing him from hunting his favorite duck, the redhead.

Duke Dredger

would like to see an access channel dredged from the Gulf of Mexico to his residential canal adjacent to the wildlife preserve. Although he knows that the higher wave energy coming in would increase shoreline erosion, his only concern is boat access to the Gulf for sports fishing.