My favorite kinds of stories have the ability to either transport me to a new place or get me to see an existing place in a new way. One way to do that is to weave new and seemingly obscure information into the story structure itself. This might sound obvious, but the first step to doing that is finding out that information yourself. And many times this involves research.
For my Third Grade Mermaid books, I not only watched a ton of documentary footage on the ocean and read numerous books, but also went to several great Aquariums. The Florida Aquarium is in Tampa Florida, and I would recommend anyone who is even remotely interested in the ocean (or the Earth for that matter) to visit this place. It's simply amazing.
One character that made it into the first mermaid book was the Giant Grouper. This picture is not of the biggest grouper they had, but even seeing this one was impressive. I had no idea groupers got this big. And their faces were just adorable!
Another creature that really made an impact on me was a Sea Cucumber that you could touch. Regretfully, I didn't get a picture of him when I was there, but I couldn't stop thinking of how strange and interesting that thing was, and it ended up as one the best characters in my book.
Doing a great amount of research about the time, place, and subject matter you are writing about can bring about invaluable ideas that you would have never just imagined on your own. Plus, if you love the subject matter you are writing about (which you should!), then doing the research is enjoyable in itself. The point is, do your research. You don't know what you don't know.