Environmental Education and Field Studies Programs at ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge

This list represents the core programs we offer. If you have specific topics (environmental issues, species you are studying, projects) or questions please don’t hesitate to email us at educator@sccoastalFriends.org. We are happy to develop a unique learning experience for your group. And we are always looking for new ways to get students outdoors and involved in their environments!

Field Studies

Students explore the unique habitats of the refuge. These programs may take a little planning but we think it’s worth it to get kids immersed in the outdoors!

Freshwater Wetlands

Students will spend the morning identifying and collecting data on the diverse array of living things in the refuge’s vast freshwater wetlands (see Forest Ecology, Pond Ecology, and Biodiversity Binge program descriptions). Then, where we’ll spend the afternoon modeling the complex ecosystem they just investigated.

Bonus: Leave with an awesome model ecosystem mural for your classroom AND plenty of real data for students to analyze.

Social Studies Add-on: If you’re interested we can also spend some time talking about the history of rice culture in South Carolina and how it has shaped this region.

Salt Marsh Ecology

ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge provides a great opportunity to experience multiple ecosystems in one trip. Students can learn about the many adaptations that plants have for living near salt water as students explore the marsh.  Then, they will be the scientists as they use scientific estimation techniques and upper level math skills to calculate the number of fiddler crabs in the refuge.

This is also a great locale to do a Biodiversity Binge (using a transect to compare the biodiversity of the salt marsh to the forest and the ecotone in between).

Environmental Education Programs

Each of these lessons will last about 45 minutes. Depending on your timetable and the size of your group, you can pick any two (groups larger than 30 students) or three (less than 30 students) of these programs for your students’ visit. Or add one of the Additional Time activities to spend a complete day on one theme.

Forest Ecology and Scavenger Hunt

Lower elementary grades – Students will hone their observational skills and discover some of the ways animals hide in plain sight as we hunt for the elusive pipe “lizard”. Then, they’ll learn about the many functions of our forest as they work in groups to complete a forest scavenger hunt.

Upper elementary grades – In this lesson, the students are the botanists as they identify common trees on the refuge.  Students will practice their observational skills as they hike one of the nearby trails, learning about the food-webs of our forest and wetland ecosystems.  They will also practice their analytical thinking and problem-solving as they work in small groups to identify local flora using a dichotomous key.

Additional Time: Make a food web – students use photos (of animals, tracks, dens, webs, etc.) that they take during the hike to create a model of the forest food web.


Students will learn the basics of using a compass by utilizing their simple math skills and studying degrees, angles, and directions. After mastering the basics, the class will set out on a compass course and see if they can find a secret prize at the end.

Pond Ecology 

A great lesson where students get outside and investigate some of the lesser known inhabitants of our freshwater ponds, creeks, and rivers! Students will use dip nets to collect an array of aquatic organisms (including aquatic insects, dragonfly larvae, tadpoles, salamanders, etc.) from ponds on the refuge.

Lower elementary grades – Then we’ll examine our specimens and discuss what they are and the fact that many of these species undergo metamorphosis.  Finally students will sketch the organisms they caught in their natural habitat.

Upper elementary grades – Students can use a dichotomous key to identify the organisms and learn how scientists use these organisms to determine the health of a pond.

Additional Time – Students use instruments to explore other ways to evaluate the health of our ponds, including how to test basic water quality parameters.

Back at school – Use our online, long-term water quality database to examine and graph changes in water quality over seasons or years.

Biodiversity Binges

Let’s take a close look at the biodiversity of our region!  Students will learn about the five kingdoms of living things as they use scientific techniques to catalogue all of the living organisms in one of our ecosystems. Students can bring their data back into the classroom and utilize their math skills to calculate and discuss the importance of biodiversity and species richness.

Additional time – Students get the opportunity to survey a few different environments and then come together as a class to compare the results.

Back at School – Repeat this activity around your school. Then, compare the data from your school to the data you collected on the refuge.


Service Learning

We love when students give back to the environments they are studying and are always up for helping classes with service learning projects. If you have a project idea, let us know what it is…we’d love to help brainstorm creative ways to make it happen! Here are some examples:

Habitat Enhancement/Restoration – Pick a species or ecosystem that your class is concerned about; research what can be down to help that species. Past projects have included: bat boxes, bird houses, oyster reef restoration,and planting native plants.

Teach others about our wildlife! Students come to the refuge to learn about some of the native and invasive flora/fauna of the Lowcountry. Then they can work in groups to create interesting and informative signs to hang up (in school yards, on interpretive trails, etc.) teaching other students interesting facts or important FYIs (e.g. Don’t touch the poison Ivy!) about the ecosystems.

Fund raising projects – A lot of times the best way to help is to donate money to a group who has the same interests as you.  Past projects include selling “Turtle Bags” (reusable cloth shopping bags with sea turtle graphics) with a note inside educating consumers about the dangers of plastic bags in our waters, and the importance of making sure your trash ends up in the right place, not in a sea turtle’s stomach.

Make your schoolyard in to a great habitat! This usually includes things like building and installing bluebird boxes, bird feeders or water features or planting native plants that attract pollinators, etc. around your campus or in other public places to create habitat for birds. Often we start this as a research project, having students investigate what they can do to make a place more hospitable habitat.