Posted by: csdailyblog | October 13, 2011

AP Environmental Biology Experiences “The Tragedy of the Commons”

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Students in AP Environmental Biology yesterday simulated fishing practices to explore “The Tragedy of the Commons,” an economic concept that addresses how quickly shared resources can be depleted when human action is driven by individual self-interest. After Science Teacher Andy Milbauer explained the lab to students, they broke into small groups and collected schools of different species of fish, represented by Swedish fish, M&Ms, and other types of candy. In order for their fishing companies to survive, the students had to “fish” with spoons and then eat their catch at timed intervals.  The fish reproduced on a predictable timetable, and the price of various types of fish went up and down over time depending upon the overall state of the fish population in the room. Students had the choice of starting individual fish ponds in addition to fishing in “the water commons.”

I watched the first few rounds of fishing in the science lab before moving on to observing in other classes. Later, I asked students at lunch how their fishing simulation turned out. They reported that several groups attempted cooperative planning and conservation, with mixed results. Other groups succumbed to the lure of the market, with price fluctuations leading to hoarding, over-fishing, and, eventually, population crashes … followed by fishing companies going under.

Read more about this lab on Science Teacher Andy Milbauer’s Conserve School website.

– Mary Anna

Conserve School is a conservation-based semester school for high school students. Read more about us at or on our Facebook page.


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