Corals Unit Overview

The lab activities in this module were created by Erin Bardar and LuAnn Dahlman of TERC for the EarthLabs project. Student Pages »

Why Teach about Corals?

The bright colors, unique shapes, and variety of exotic life in and around coral reefs make them a natural source of wonder and delight. But coral reefs are much more than just ornamental showpieces along the ocean floor. Coral reefs are often compared to rainforests for the vast biodiversity they support and to old growth forests for the longevity of their ecological communities. Despite covering only one five-hundredth of the ocean floor, coral reefs serve as nursery, farm, and home to one third of all marine fish species. Coral reefs also support economies by attracting tourists, protect coastal communities from the potentially damaging effects of storms, and may hold the secrets to curing fatal diseases.

As rich and beautiful as coral reefs are, learning about coral has long been on the outside of schools' standard curricula. Now, with our marine fisheries under severe threat and 40% of the planet's coral reefs in critical condition or already degraded beyond recovery, the very wellbeing of our planet depends on students gaining a working knowledge of coral ecosystems and acting in ways to preserve them.

Why use this set of lessons?

The lessons presented in this unit on Corals expose students to some of the most current scientific research, data, and visualizations in a way that allows them to become active participants in both learning about and conserving coral reefs.

Key Questions

Key questions addressed by this unit include:

  • What is coral?
  • Why do coral reefs matter to humans?
  • Where does coral thrive, survive, and die?
  • What factors influence coral reef health?
  • How will coral reefs respond to projected global warming?

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