EXPLORING THE GREAT BEAR SEA: New, Free Curriculum Resources

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I worked for 28 years with my partner, Ralf Meyer, producing films that tell stories about sustainability and the conservation of natural resources, filming in remote places in North America and meeting people who I refer to as “the most amazing people in the world” – bold leaders working for a more just and sustainable future. When we traveled to the Great Bear Sea to produce a film on the marine planning underway, we were awestruck as we stepped into this rich ecosystem along the North Pacific Coast of British Columbia and met the people who have always called this home.

Article by Karen Anspacher-Meyer, Sarah Lockman & Jennifer Buffett

Banner image of harbor seal in bull kelp by Florian Graner 

flying over the great bear sea
Central Coast, BC by Green Fire Productions

The Great Bear Sea Region

The Great Bear region is one of Canada’s unique ecological treasures. It is home to islands, wild rivers, cold-water seas, and one of the world’s last intact temperate rainforests. This region of British Columbia’s coast is one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world, has enormous significance to the people who live here, and contains important resources for B.C.’s economy. The Great Bear Sea – a new name used to describe this marine area – encompasses the waters that surround the Great Bear Rainforest and extends from Campbell River on Vancouver Island to the border of B.C. and Alaska. It covers a large area – 103,000 square kilometers in total – and extends from the high tide line to the edge of the continental shelf.

About the Film

canoeing with students in the great bear sea
Canoe Journey by Philip Charles

“The Great Bear Sea: Reflecting on the Past, Planning for the Future” is a journey through the Great Bear Sea region, home to First Nations for thousands of years. The film explores this unique area – an expanse of ocean where whales, wolves, bears, fish, seabirds, other marine life and humans thrive in rich coastal ecosystems. The Great Bear Sea is also a place where worlds collide – a place full of historic conflicts and looming battles over ocean resources. Now 17 First Nations and the Province of British Columbia, through a government-to-government process, have created marine plans for the Great Bear Sea to both protect their home and to build sustainable coastal economies through the Marine Plan Partnership (MaPP). Through the film, we meet people and communities along the coast of BC who are working to implement B.C.’s marine plans.

But “The Great Bear Sea” film isn’t my story about the people and the place. Elders and young First Nations leaders, the BC government and people creating the marine plans are the storytellers here—sharing a window not only to the issues they are facing, but also the vision and solutions held in the plans.

The Community

Harvesting Butter Clams, Haida Gwaii, great bear sea
Harvesting Butter Clams, Haida Gwaii, by Green Fire Productions

Everything we eat, whether it’s inter-tidal, whether it’s bottom fish, whether it’s herring, whether it’s herring spawn, whether it’s salmon – everything comes out of that ocean. It’s a lifeline. It’s a lifeline for our people. – William Housty, Chair, Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department

When we released “The Great Bear Sea” and began screening it in B.C. coastal communities, from Vancouver to Haida Gwaii, from Bella Bella to Prince Rupert, we visited classrooms and screened the film for students, often entire schools. Teachers and students alike were transfixed, and we decided to work with curriculum developers to create teaching resources and make it easy (and free!) for teachers to bring one of the most promising stories of our time into their classrooms.  

scientist doing research on the coast of the great bear sea
Trevor Russ, Seaweed Harvest, Haida Gwaii, by Green Fire Productions

Exploring the Great Bear Sea Curriculum Resources

The ideas and perspectives presented in “The Great Bear Sea” film provide a great opportunity for inquiry and place-based learning in schools and other settings, and thus the Exploring the Great Bear Sea Curriculum was born! If you are an educator who also loves marine life and the ocean – and sharing that love and passion with students and others – then British Columbia is a pretty neat place to explore. From estuaries and rivers, to fjords and tidal flats, to a vast array of species and the people who call coastal communities home – there is so much to learn about using this ‘living case-study’ in your teaching practice and engaging students in marine and ocean literacy.

totem pole in the forrest along the coast of the great bear sea
Totem, Heiltsuk Territory, by Green Fire Productions

The Exploring the Great Bear Sea Curriculum consists of an elementary cross-curricular unit for Grades 4-7, secondary units for Social Studies Grades 11-12 and Environmental Science Grades 11-12, and a post-secondary resource. Using film segments, research data, local knowledge and place-based stories, the curriculum explores themes such as collaborative science, marine planning, Indigenous Knowledge, biodiversity, sustainable resource management and marine stewardship. All resources are connected to the revised BC curriculum and include full lesson plans and supplementary resources, as well as film clips to support classroom learning. Although linked to the B.C. curriculum, these resources are applicable to any educator looking to explore these themes in their classroom or in other learning contexts.

For instance, the film clip below allows students to experience the bounty & other-worldly beauty of the intertidal zone with Trevor Russ, Vice President, Council of the Haida Nation, as he harvests traditional foods in Haida Gwaii and talks about the role of Traditional Knowledge as the foundation for the Haida Gwaii marine plan. This clip is then tied to lessons that look more specifically at traditional knowledge through seasonal rounds or seasonal use cycles, which map the traditional knowledge of an area, displaying the when and what of harvesting around the seasons for a specific place.

All curriculum resources are available free of charge and include printable resources, links to film segments, and supplementary materials. These can be accessed and downloaded from our website.

The post-secondary resource fits a variety of teaching contexts, including environmental science, marine studies, resource management, coastal geography, Indigenous studies and social sciences (law, governance, sociology, etc.), and provides film clips, overviews, case studies and pedagogical resources.

Curious to learn more about this area and see more of the film?

You can watch the Great Bear Sea: “Reflecting on the Past, Planning for the Future” trailer, 12-minute excerpt or view the full length (75 minute) film to learn more about the region and the Marine Plan Partnership.

beautiful shoreline photograph at the great bear sea
Metlakatla Pass, by Green Fire Productions

Exploring the Great Bear Sea curriculum resources are available online here. Contact us over email by clicking here.

“What an excellent resource! Our school principal shared this resource with us and after checking it out, I told all of our teachers (we are a K-12 school) that they NEED to check it out. Thank you!” Elementary teacher, Port Coquitlam, British Columbia


Sarah Lockman and Jennifer Buffett have worked in formal and informal educational settings, including elementary, secondary and post-secondary classrooms, non-profit organizations, municipal and provincial educational organizations in BC and Ontario. Together, they have over 30 years of curriculum development, teaching and educational leadership experience, with specialization in innovative approaches to hands-on, inquiry and place-based learning. (They also love the ocean!) Contact them at: learninginplace@gmail.com

An earlier version of this article appeared in a Canadian Network for Ocean Education blog.


green fire productions logo

Green Fire Productions, a non-profit organization, specializes in producing documentaries on sustainability and conservation of natural resources. The Great Bear Sea is part of the Ocean Frontiers film series on ocean stewardship in North America. www.ocean-frontiers.org Founded in 1989 by Karen Anspacher-Meyer and Ralf Meyer, Green Fire films are used in classrooms worldwide and screened in community events, for decision-makers and on public television.


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