Coral reefs are among the oldest and most diverse ecosystems on Earth. Learning about coral ecosystems encompasses many of the 9-12 grade science curriculum standards including life cycles of organisms, biological structure and function of organisms, and the behaviors and adaptations of organisms to their environment. All populations in this ecosystem are interdependent and part of a global food web.
Healthy coral ecosystems are important to humans, plants, fish, and other organisms that depend on them. However, changes in climate and human activities are endangering these ecosystems. Pollution, habitat loss, invasive species, and diseases are all threats to the survival of coral ecosystems around the globe. Learning about the fragility and value of coral ecosystems will help students understand what is needed to protect these resources.
These resources provide information, online data, and activities about the biology of the coral organism, types and distribution of coral; the populations, habitats, and dynamics of coral ecosystems; and the monitoring and conservation of coral ecosystems.
Cooperatively developed by NOAA scientists and National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) pedagogic experts, these tutorials are designed to help teachers understand a set of ideas based on the science literacy goals in the National Science Education Standards. Each tutorial focuses on a key content idea with interactive simulations and embedded questions.
This tutorial presents the unique and diverse ecosystem of the coral reef. Coral reefs are complex systems that create some of the largest structures on Earth. Thousands of coral species exist in oceans worldwide. As they grow, reefs provide structural habitats for hundreds to thousands of different organisms.
This tutorial investigates the abiotic characteristics that affect coral reef ecosystems. The number and kinds of organisms found along each reef depend on the physical conditions of the environment and resources available, including food, light, water quality, temperature, and other organisms living in and around the reef. If conditions change significantly due to changes in climate, loss of food sources, excessive predation, or loss of habitat, the health and stability of the ecosystem will be affected.
This tutorial explores the interdependent relationships between species in the coral reef ecosystem. All populations in the reef ecosystem are a part of and depend on a global food web through which energy flows in one direction, from the sun into each organism and eventually dissipating into the environment as heat. This food web includes ocean plants, the animals that feed on them, and the animals that feed on those animals. Energy is transferred between organisms and their environment along the way with energy concentration diminishing at each step. The cycles of life continue indefinitely because organisms decompose after death and return food materials to the environment.
This tutorial explores the natural and human causes of stress on coral reef ecosystems. Humans influence coral ecosystems in a variety of ways. Increasing amounts of stress are brought on these ecosystems as humans continue to modify the surrounding environment as a result of population growth, technology, and consumption. Human destruction of habitats through direct harvesting, pollution, atmospheric changes, and other factors are threatening the stability and overall health of many coral reefs. Human activities may also exacerbate the impact of natural disturbances on coral reefs or compromise the ability of the reef to recover from events such as hurricanes, tsunamis, or disease.
In collaboration with the NSTA, NOAA has presented a series of 90-minute, professional development experiences. Through the following links you can view archives of these Web seminars, download PowerPoint presentations, and access additional resources.
Coral Ecosystems I: Human and Natural Impacts and Coral Bleaching 101
These Web seminars focus on humans and natural impacts affecting coral reefs, such as pollution, disease, and invasive species. A primer on coral bleaching and what causes it is also presented, as well as the impact of hurricanes and wave action on reefs, how NOAA monitors coral bleaching, and what teachers and students can do to help coral reefs.
Coral Ecosystems II: Impacts to Coral Reefs and Land Based Pollution Threats
These Web seminars focus on how watersheds, animals, industry, environmental stress, and human recreation (e.g., diving, sailing, and boating) are impacting the health of coral reefs. Information on coral biology, the value of coral reefs, land-based pollution impacts, and management actions is also presented.