City in the Sea

Instructional Objectives
Background Information
Elementary and Secondary Extensions

Topic: Coral Reef Conservation

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:

  1. Conduct discussions on current threats to coral reefs around the world.
  2. Write letters to conservation organizations urging support for coral reef protection.

Background Information:

Coral reefs are being damaged at an alarming rate due to overfishing and destructive fishing methods, pollution, coastal development, erosion, siltation, boat anchors, divers, storms, global warming, and, most of all, rising human populations.

1997 is the International Year of the Reef, and 1998 will be the International Year of the Ocean. Both are opportunities to focus on conservation of our marine environment.

The goals of the International Year of the Reef are to assess the health of coral reefs throughout the world, to discover the major causes of reef destruction, to increase public awareness about the value of coral reefs and to develop strategies that promote the sustainable management of reef ecosystems and aid in their recovery.

Activity: Defending Coral Reefs

Time Needed For Activity: Unlimited

Target Grade Level: High School


  • detailed world maps
  • notebooks
  • stationery
  • postage
  • addresses: Consult the International Year of the Reef/Coral Reef Alliance for a list of addresses of government agencies and conservation organizations students may contact to make their voices heard. On the World Wide Web, IYOR.


  1. Using world maps, find and outline the regions in which coral reefs are found. Remember that coral reefs occur only in tropic seas. (The Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn are 20° North Latitude and 20° South Latitude, respectively. The tropic seas are those areas of the ocean circling the globe astride the equator and between the two tropics.)
  2. Within the tropics, concentrate on the following regions: the south-central and southwest Pacific, including Hawaii; Southeast Asia; northern Australia; the central and west Indian Ocean; the Red Sea and Persian Gulf; and the Caribbean, including South Florida. These are the regions of greatest coral concentration and diversity.
  3. Consider the following threats to coral reefs, region by region.
    • Pacific Ocean (25 percent of the world's coral reefs): rising human populations, overfishing, escalating development.
    • Southeast Asia (30 percent): same as above, with increased influx of untreated sewage.
    • Indian Ocean (24 percent): same as Pacific, plus dredging of reefs for industrial uses and creation of shipping channels, growing offshore oil industry, increasing tourism.
    • Red Sea and Persian Gulf (small percentage): same as Pacific, plus coastal development, pollution form various sources.
    • Carribean (14 percent) same as Pacific, plus harvesting of mangroves and dredging, which increases sedimentation, smothering reefs.
  4. Have students break into groups and concentrate on specific regions and specific threats. Consider actions and solutions, including how to address the population explosion, industry, fishing, mining, development, tourism, etc.
  5. Have students draft letters based on their conclusions regarding actions that they feel need to be taken to protect coral reefs.
  6. Provide students with list of addresses from above to which they can send their letters.


This is a true citizenship activity. Throughout this activity, stress the importance of involvement. Guide discussions toward specific goals. Students should learn that through a concerted, cooperative effort, their voices can be heard and a positive impact can be made in terms of coral reef conservation. Stress that they have an opportunity to help shape the quality of the future they will inherit.

Extension for Elementary: Build a model coral reef

You will need clay, plastic trays, artificial coral from an aquarium supply store or pet shop, scale replicas of marine animals, pipe cleaners, beads, sequins, glue and imagination. Refer to the program and illustrated books on coral reefs for visual references.

In small groups, have students construct their model reefs. Be sure to guide them in discussions of the principals of natural communities. Remember that the reef is a shelter for animals of all kinds. While fishes gather around the tops of the coral reef, animals such as anemones, lobsters, crabs, octopuses and giant clams may hide and take shelter underneath overhangs and in nooks and crannies. Have students solve the problems of "Who belongs where doing what?" Have them report on their conclusions as to how coral-reef communities are organized.

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