EarthLabs for Educators > Corals > Lab Overviews

Lab Overviews

Coral reef scuba diver
1. Coral Reefs, The Human View
Students are introduced to coral reef ecosystems and the importance of corals to humans. Students watch the IMAX film Coral Reef Adventure to experience the human view of coral reefs through the eyes of ocean explorers and underwater filmmakers Howard and Michele Hall. The students then use microscopes to examine coral and identify its features.
Tools Needed: TV/DVD player, Windows Media Player (or similar)
  • coral samples
  • microscopes

2. Coral Anatomy
In this activity, students examine hydra, a fresh-water relative of coral, under a microscope to observe feeding behavior and identify stinging cells that are characteristic of corals. They also learn more about the individual animals that make up coral reefs and construct simple models of coral polyp anatomy and feeding behavior.
Part A:
  • hydra samples
  • medicine droppers
  • depression (well) slides
  • straight pins or paper clips
  • daphnia or brine shrimp
  • magnifying lenses
  • microscopes
Part B:
  • 3" x 3" sticky notes (i.e. Post-It© notes)
  • pencils or pens
  • transparent tape
  • scissors
  • egg carton cups
  • additional craft supplies (i.e., markers, construction paper, glue, etc.)

3. Building a Reef
Students learn about the life cycle of corals, including how they grow and reproduce. Students consider the chemistry of seawater and the importance of the symbiotic relationship between corals and zooxanthellae in the formation of coral reefs. They blow CO2 through calcium hydroxide (lime water) to model how respiration assists coral in precipitating calcium carbonate. Students also build on the coral polyp models they made in Lab 2 to demonstrate coral growth, reproduction, and reef formation.
  • clear plastic cups
  • lime water
  • drinking straws
  • small (#2) coffee filters
  • water
  • white vinegar
  • eyedropper

4. Finding Coral's Ideal Environment
Corals, like other living animals, require a particular range of environmental conditions to survive. In this lab, students examine sea surface temperature, depth, salinity, and aragonite saturation data to discover coral reefs' favored environments.

5. Trouble in Paradise: Factors that Impact Coral Health
Students examine the status of coral reefs around the world using an online geographic information system (GIS). They also investigate some of the major factors that disrupt coralswatersheds, exploitive fishing, coastal development, and climate change.
Tools Needed: ReefGIS

6. Using Data to Identify Hot Spots and Predict Bleaching Events
Students explore the concepts of coral bleaching, bleaching hot spots, and degree-heating weeks. Using data products from NOAA's Coral Reef Watch, students identify bleaching hot spots and degree-heating weeks around the globe as well as in the Florida Keys' Sombrero Reef to determine the impact higher than normal sea surface temperatures have on coral reefs.


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