Ocean in a Bottle

Studying the ocean with kids is awesome because there is so much to explore. There’s also a lot we don’t know about the ocean; use those things to spark great discussions and creative thinking. This is a simple experiment that feels like an art project. . . sure to be a hit.

How to Make an Ocean in a Bottle:

You need:

  • an empty 2 liter plastic bottle with a lid
  • clear vegetable oil or mineral oil
  • water
  • a funnel
  • blue food coloring

1. First, fill the bottle halfway with water. Add a few drops of blue food coloring and swirl it around until it mixes.
2. Using a funnel, add oil up to the top of the bottle. Put the lid on tightly.  You may want to put a little hot glue around the rim if you’re worried about it leaking.
3. Now rock the bottle on its side gently to create a wave that goes back and forth.


If you want to, you may add small shells, sand, or tiny fish-shaped beads before sealing the bottle.

Within our own little ocean bottle, the oil and water don’t mix because the hydrogen bonds in the water are strong.  The oil bonds are not strong enough to break the water’s hydrogen bonds, so the two liquids can’t combine.  The oil is less dense than the water, so it stays above it and allows us to see the wave action we see when we tip the bottle back and forth.  When oil spills happen within our oceans, those two substances won’t mix either.  Instead, they leave disastrous oil spills that are difficult to clean up and can harm plant and animal life in the area they spilled.  To keep things in perspective though, more oil reaches the oceans each year in little bits from leaking automobiles and things than has ever spilled off an oil tanker.  When tankers leak it looks dramatic because it’s all in one place, but there are bits of oil being dripped in from other sources far more.

Fun Facts About the Ocean:

  • Water covers 70 percent of the world’s surface.
  • If you could weigh ocean water it would weigh 1.45 trillion tons!!
  • There are over 1 million species of known marine animals that live there, and many more yet to be discovered.  Some scientists guess there may be as many as 9 million more we haven’t discovered yet!
  •  The ocean floor is covered with ridges, mountain ranges, and canyons.
  • The blue whale is the largest mammal on the earth and has a heart the size of a Volkswagon.
  • The Great Barrier Reef is 1,243 miles and is the largest living structure on earth.  You can see it from space.
  • The ocean is like a treasure chest.  It contains not only valuable minerals, but also spices (like salt), fish and other marine life that we eat, and oil that we depend on for fuel.

Additional layers:

  • Read Eric Carle’s Mister Seahorse and discuss 1) how and why some species use camoflauge, and 2) the species of fish that have their fathers rather than their mothers care for them.
  • Create your own “undiscovered” marine animal.  Where does it live?  What features does it have to help it survive in it’s environment (most really deep sea fish don’t have eyes because it’s too dark to see anyway).  What does it eat?  Name it, draw a picture, write a story, and describe what it’s like.
  • Learn about the moon’s effect on tides.
  • Draw a simple food chain showing how animals within a small region depend on each other for food.
  • Find out about some jobs people do that have to do with the ocean.  Explore everything from marine biologists to cruise ship operators.
  • Learn about salinity and properties of seawater.




  1. Hello…
    I am very interested in creating this Ocean in a Bottle. My only concern is the mineral spirit. Do you recommend a specific type or brand and if so please send me an email with this information.

    Thank you for your time.

    Teresa 🙂

  2. Pretty sure you mean mineral OIL, not mineral spirits. At least in the US, mineral spirits is a solvent sold in hardware stores, used to strip and clean wood furniture — sometimes called paint thinner. Mineral oil is the thick clear stuff sold in pharmacies, and with a little perfume added to it sold as baby oil. Mineral oil is okay for kids — mineral spirits are not!

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