Cover image: Coral Reefs

Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are beautiful underwater colonies of tiny animals (polyps - related to sea anenomes) built up gradually into hard structures from the calcium carbonate that they secrete.

They are amazingly diverse ecosystems - even though they cover less than 1% of the Earth’s surface, they are home to over 25% of all marine life. Scientists estimate there may be as many as eight million undiscovered species living in or around coral reefs.

Did you know that...

  • the Great Barrier Reef is the only living structure visible from outer space?
  • full grown coral can eat little baby coral?
  • there are more than 2,000 coral reefs in the world - some of them off the coast of the UK?

An exploration of coral reefs in class can link into aspects of Geography and Science, but read on to find links to Art & Design and even Textiles. You could introduce the topic through a clip from David Attenborough's Blue Planet II series, in which an episode is devoted to coral reefs.

The what and the where of coral

Here is a selection of links and resources to help introduce coral and coral reefs to students. Beatrice the Biologist provides a funny and simple introduction, Corals, baby - explaining why coral is an animal and not a plant. A simple, colourful series of 'infographics' on the CNN website gives basic facts and figures: The wonderful world of coral reefs. You can find lesson plans for all ages on what coral is, where reefs are found and why they are in danger, together with a range of photos and film clips, on Reef Relief's website. There is an interactive map showing where coral reefs are found on the Millennium Coral Reefs Landsat Archive website. Google Street View has gone underwater to show footage from several coral reefs around the world. And on the Guardian website you can see a clip showing how they filmed the reefs. Digital Explorer offers web talks for students and KS3 Science and Geography resources on coral reefs: Digital Explorer: Oceans. Did you know there are Scottish coral reefs? Find out more from this BBC News article: Underwater robots to 'repair' Scotland's coral reefs.

The beauty of coral reefs

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="280"]Crocheted coral reef by Patricia Barden - click to view on Crocheted coral reef by Patricia Barden - click to view on[/caption] Coral reefs can provide inspiration for art projects and cross-curricular learning - you could even get your students crocheting some coral (like the coral in this picture!). There are some beautiful close-up photos of coral on the Colossal website. Also, the Reef Relief Image Archive has lots more photos and film clips. How to crochet coral - see the Institute for Figuring's Crochet Coral Reef - and a TED talk about it (and the science/maths behind it).

A home to many animals

Here we suggest links to support investigations into the many animals that live on coral reefs – the second most diverse ecosystems on the planet after rainforests. BBC Learning Zone Class Clips has a short video on the diversity of reefs. Watch this YouTube clip showing the incredible camouflaging of octopus vulgaris - or read about 'crop circles' created by Japanese puffer fish. A comprehensive guide to teaching about sea turtles (PDF) Enchanted Learning has a huge range of printouts of animals that live on coral reefs, useful for primary pupils.

What future for coral reefs?

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="280"]Great Barrier Reef, Australia | NASA | Wikimedia Commons- click to view on Great Barrier Reef, Australia | NASA | Wikimedia Commons - click to view on[/caption] The growth rate of a coral reef is less than 3 cm a year; it takes many years to form a large reef and years of growth can quickly be destroyed when reefs are harmed by careless fishing and tourism practices. The following resources will help your students investigate the destruction and preservation of coral reefs. National Geographic - Caribbean Coral Reefs Mostly Dead, IUCN says Chumbe Island off Zanzibar is using sustainable tourism to protect its reefs: Chumbe Island Mother Nature Network - Five outlandish ideas for saving coral reefs Reef Check Australia has lots of primary activities and photos (ages 4-7) on sustainability and management of coral reefs Climate change is resulting in increased occurences of coral bleaching. Changes in water acidity cause stress for the coral, resulting in them expelling the colourful algae that live in them - The Bridge Ocean Education website has a secondary lesson plan about this phenomenon.

Global Calendar

The following days could provide a useful prompt for discussing coral reefs - following the links for more information.

The image at the top of this page is Coral Reef by Ian Robertson on