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February 14, 2013

Stopping the demise of the world’s coral reefs – Lesson Plan



Estimated Time

Three 50-minute class periods plus additional time for presentations and extension activities

Grade Level

Grades 7-12


Students will:

  • Participate in class discussion and support their opinions and ideas with facts and information learned from prior classroom activities.
  • Learn the term symbiosis and be able to define it and give examples of it.
  • Learn how interdependent ecosystems can be destroyed when one habitat experiences distress or harm.
  • Analyze primary science-based resources to develop informational presentations and public awareness campaign materials.
  • Work in pairs or small groups to conduct research, construct presentations and public awareness campaigns, and present these items to their peers.


For the first time in decades, the U.S. government has adopted policies to protect our ocean waters. A primary reason for this is the destruction to the coral reefs that border our nation. Many things such as pollution, global warming, over-fishing, and tourism have contributed to the damage to coral reefs worldwide. In addition, natural events such as the El Nino weather pattern and hurricanes also cause reef damage.

At the current rate, many of the world’s coral reefs could be completely destroyed in the next 30 years. This will have a direct impact on the entire ocean ecosystem, not to mention the economic impact the demise of the reefs would have on the U.S. and other nations of the world. Coral reefs are important breeding and feeding grounds for many ocean species. In addition, scientists are exploring the use of natural remedies offered by coral reef life to cure many of today’s common diseases.


  1. Using individual computers or a computer connected to a projection system, introduce students to coral reefs by visiting the “Coral Reef Adventure” website and clicking on “Learning About Reefs”. From the drop down menu, choose “The Virtual Reef”. Here, students can see what a coral reef actually looks like. In addition, they can learn about various types of coral and sea creatures that depend on the reefs. The virtual reef also briefly discusses some of the species that are endangered and/or protected at this time.
  2. Now that students have had a chance to see and learn a little about coral reefs, have them participate in a scavenger hunt using the same Web site as a resource. In the Learning About Reefs drop down menu, have students choose “About Coral and Coral Reefs”. Students can work in pairs or small groups to find the answers to the questions on the Reef Scavenger Hunt Worksheet. Give students 10-15 minutes to complete the scavenger hunt.
  3. Once the scavenger hunt has been completed, facilitate a class discussion about the questions on the worksheet. Have students share their answers with the group. Use this as an opportunity to teach students about symbiosis and the importance of coral reefs in keeping the entire ocean ecosystem balanced. In addition, discuss with students the direct impact coral reefs have on humans, particularly as a means of providing food and medicine. Take time to discuss the following question with students so they can understand why this ecosystem matters to everyone. Use the map that illustrates coral reef destruction worldwide by going to ReefBase, a coral reef mapper. Click on various parts of the map to see areas of coral reef destruction.
    • Why should all people be concerned about the demise of the world’s coral reefs?
  4. Now that students have learned a little about coral reefs, they are ready to further examine what causes the destruction of coral reefs. Begin by having students watch the segment from NewsHour entitled: Scientists Tap Reefs for Medical Discoveries. As they view, have students pay particular attention to answering the following questions. These should be posted on the board or overhead so all students can see them. Encourage students to take notes as needed so they can participate in a discussion following the viewing.
    • How does climate affect the health of coral reefs?
    • What are the other factors that have caused massive changes in the reef
      over the past few decades?
    • What would happen if coral reefs would disappear?
    • Can the destruction reefs are currently experiencing be reversed?
    • What environmental changes are necessary to save the world’s reefs?
    • What is the U.S. government doing to protect reefs in our oceans?
    • Can artificial reefs effectively replace natural reefs?
  5. After viewing, take time to discuss the answers to the questions. Use specific examples from the program to answer each question.
  6. Once discussion has been completed, have students go on a fact-finding mission. Their goal is to use scientific resources and science based information sources to create a project display and presentation that addresses specifically what can be done to preserve the world’s coral reefs, actions that all people can take to preserve the reefs, and creates awareness about why this environmental problem should be one that all people take an interest in. Using the Save the Coral Reefs Research Worksheet, have students collect and record their data in pairs or small groups. Next, have them organize this data into some sort of display or presentation. Finally, have them present their findings to others in a way that communicates the message quickly, clearly, and effectively.
  7. When all groups have finished the assignment they should present their display and their message to other students in the classroom to share what they have learned and how people can be actively involved in preserving the world’s coral reefs.

Extension Activity

  1. Conduct a school-wide awareness campaign to tell others about the devastation to the world’s coral reefs. Have each pair/group of students visit another classroom to share their presentation and public awareness campaign or make a presentation in the form of a school assembly or school news broadcast or newspaper story.
  2. Have students conduct further research into the possibility of using the substances and organisms found in coral reefs for medical purposes. Using the drug AZT used to treat HIV as an example, have students investigate the possibility of using coral reef life to develop everything from sunscreen and painkillers to cancer fighting drugs. Invite a local scientist or expert to visit the classroom to discuss this possibility, or use e-mail to correspond with scientists currently researching this area to gather information.
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    Relevant National Standards:
    • Standard 6: Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment
    • Standard 12: Understands the nature of scientific inquiry
    • Geography
    • Standard 14: Understands how human actions modify the physical environment
    • Standard 18: Understands global development and environmental issues
    • Language Arts
    • Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
    • Reading
    • Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts.
    • Writing
    • Standard 1: Uses general skills and strategies of the writing process
    • Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes

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