In this AR/VR experience, students pilot the ROPOS in their very own underwater adventure. Working together as a team, students will fly ROPOS through a virtual environment, gathering deep-sea samples along transects in two different habitats.


To protect and sustainably manage an ecosystem, scientists need to understand what species need, and how they relate to other components of the habitat. Scientists use various methods to monitor changes in a habitat over time, to better understand what is involved in species decline or species recovery. We can describe the biodiversity of a habitat using the number of species at a site, and we can describe how healthy the populations of different species are using the species abundance (how many of each species are in the area).

The transect survey is a way of systematically exploring and monitoring an area. A transect is a line marked at regular intervals. An observer moves along the line and records how many organisms are present along that line. In this simulation, the students conduct a photo-transect survey, which is a noninvasive method. The researcher counts species from photos taken along the transect line. Transect surveys are usually used to estimate species abundance in a region, and are good for sampling a large area relatively quickly. One drawback of this method is that it can miss a lot of information; for example, some species may be hidden from view by objects near the transect line. The researcher must estimate the populations that live between photo locations. If there is something unusual about the environment around the chosen transact line, these estimates may be misleading.

The sea pen is an example of an indicator species. Sea pens are easily damaged by bottom fishing gear, such as trawlers, so they are excellent indicators of the health of the sea floor. It would be costly and difficult to monitor all species in an ecosystem, so scientists choose to monitor species whose health is a good reflection of the overall health of their habitat.

Related links

Living Oceans Foundation — Photo transect surveys

Encyclopedia Britannica — Indicator species

Learning outcomes

Students use the transect method to collect habitat and species data.

Students use data to explain relationships between marine species and their habitats.


Critical thinker, Collaborator, Communicator

Focus question

What are the relationships between marine species and their habitats?

Learning objectives

    • Make and record observations.

    • Explore and interpret data using graphs.

Before you get started

Check that your iOS devices are connected to Wifi and have the Ocean School app installed.

Review the Fly ROPOs -App guide for how to to use the app.

Review the Fly ROPOS Species Guide for descriptions of the species.


The Fly ROPOS Student activity prompts them to:

    1. Reflect on their experience

    2. Record and analyze their observations of the sandy bottom and cliff habitats

    3. Graph the species abundance data that was recorded in the Fly ROPOS student data collection sheet.

    4. Interpret the graph data and construct a general statement about the types of organisms that live in each habitat.

    5. Reflect on the merits of the transect method

Discussion points

    • What are potential sources of error for this transect method?

    • We need to understand species’ needs so we can protect them, but sometimes the methods that we use to study species can disturb the habitat. How do we decide when this is worth doing?

Preview the student activity

Fly ROPOS: Instructions

Preview the student data sheet

Fly ROPOS: Data collection sheet

Fly ROPOS - App guide

For more information on how to use the app, read the Fly ROPOS - App guide.

Fly ROPOS - Species guide

For more information about the species, read the Fly ROPOS - Species guide.