Salmon are heroes that can beat seemingly insurmountable odds.
That is the foundation of NOAA Fisheries’ educational program called “An Incredible Journey.” The series, launched in 2018, includes a vividly illustrated children’s book, a board game, and a 10-lesson curriculum. It can be downloaded for free in either English or Spanish. Together they tell the story of one of the West Coast’s signature species in a way that inspires students to help protect them.
Parents, educators, and naturalists can use these materials to connect children with native salmon, helping to make them stewards of the natural world.
“Salmon always faced a tough and remarkable life journey from their home rivers to estuaries and the ocean and back again. Now, additionally, they face modern challenges from habitat loss to pollution and warmer waters due to climate change,” said Alicia Keefe, Education and Outreach Coordinator with NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region. “Through the series, the story of salmon unfolds in a way that inspires students and even their teachers to become salmon stewards.”
The series is a colorful adventure that inspires interest and wonder in salmon and their ocean, estuary, and river homes. It avoids dense statistics and detailed biology—instead keeping it fun and fostering action on behalf of salmon, she said.
“The idea is to demonstrate through stories, illustrations, and games that salmon are heroes, and explain why they need our care, and what we all can do to make a difference,” Keefe said.
Learning About Culture, Ecosystems, and Communities
The series speaks to the cultural, economic, and environmental importance of salmon and what they need to thrive. Through storytelling, independent research, and modeling, students:
- Explore the perilous salmon migration guided by smell that may extend thousands of miles.
- Discover how salmon connect many ecosystems and support more than 130 different animal and plant species.
- Learn about cultures around the world that depend on salmon for sustenance and their dances, festivals, and poems centered around salmon.
- Examine different types of West Coast salmon fishing and how they are managed to be sustainable for the long term.
- Define a personal meaning of stewardship and examine case studies about kids making a difference in their communities.
The series poses many open-ended questions that help students think about their role in their local watershed and how they personally are connected to salmon. They also examine the value of caring for native fish species.
Students will come away from the series understanding that salmon support a complex web of food chains and ecosystems. They also support small and large-scale economies, West Coast communities, and cultural connections.
By harnessing students’ newfound enthusiasm for salmon, the series also hopes to engage their parents, guardians, and extended families in salmon stewardship. “An Incredible Journey” provides information about service opportunities that help engage families and communities.
At a time when many are isolated inside, the series offers a valuable opportunity to build a personal connection with the natural world. Please make full use of this series and share it with others who will appreciate the same opportunity.
For More Information
We are always looking to learn how our resources can meet your needs and reach new audiences. For questions or feedback on this series, please contact Alicia Keefe, the West Coast Region’s Education and Outreach Coordinator.
An Incredible Journey Children’s Book
This book explores topics such as salmon migration, keystone species, and salmon culture through vivid illustrations and short text. Empowering students to act, the text is followed up with six case studies about kids who are making a difference.
Age: Elementary school
Salmon Survival Board Game
This board game walks participants through the salmon life cycle. During each stage, participants attempt to survive natural and human-made challenges, such as drought, passage barriers, and predators. But don’t despair, the game features ways that people are helping salmon, such as building rain gardens, conserving water, and constructing fish ladders.
Age: Elementary school, Middle school
An Incredible Journey Curriculum
This curriculum for grades 4-5 is filled with 10 hands-on lesson plans that explore the salmon life cycle; the cultural, environmental, and economic importance of salmon; the major issues facing salmon today; and how individuals can get involved to protect and conserve these iconic species. While this curriculum was designed to be used as a complete unit, individual lessons can be used as a springboard for units of study on animal migrations, keystone species, watershed health, stewardship, and more.
Language: English, Spanish (coming soon)
Age: 4-5th Grade
Life Cycle of the Pacific Salmon
This colorful 5-minute animation takes you on the incredible journey of a Pacific salmon's life—from fry to adult spawner. Learn more about the different habitats salmon depend on and the challenges they face throughout their different stages. This animation was developed in partnership with the Pacific Northwest College of Art and the National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation.