Lab 1: Coral Reefs, the Human View


Coral reef scuba diver

Coral reefs are unique and beautiful ecosystems that serve as nursery, farm, and home to untold numbers of marine species. The incredible biodiversity supported by healthy coral reefs has earned them the nickname "rainforests of the sea."

Coral reefs provide a wealth of benefits to humans. In certain parts of the world, coastal residents rely on coral reef fisheries for a significant portion of their protein intake. Tropical coral reefs and islands help make tourism the world's largest industry by attracting millions of visitors each year. Coral reefs have also contributed to major pharmaceutical breakthroughs. For example, the drug AZT, used for the treatment of HIV infections, is based on chemicals found in Caribbean reef sponges. Today, the majority of cancer drug research is focused on tapping resources from marine organisms, many of which inhabit coral reefs.

In the first part of this lab, you will experience the human view of coral reefs through the viewing of several short videos about coral. In the second part of the lab, you will examine coral samples provided by your teacher and classmates.

After completing this investigation, you should be able to:

  • name at least three reasons why coral reefs are important to humans;
  • explain the role of symbiosis in reef ecosystems; and
  • explain the differences between living corals in the ocean and the pieces of coral one might see washed up on a beach.

Keeping Track of What You Learn

Throughout these labs, you will find two kinds of questions.
  • Checking In questions are intended to keep you engaged and focused on key concepts and to allow you to periodically check if the material is making sense. These questions are often accompanied by hints or answers to let you know if you are on the right track.
  • Stop and Think questions are intended to help your teacher assess your understanding of the key concepts and skills you should be learning from the lab activities and readings.
Your teacher will let you know which answers you should record and turn in.