Coral Reef Ecosystem Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Sarah Meers

Sarah has taught elementary education for 10 years and has a master's degree in Education Leadership.

In this lesson, you will get a chance to explore a coral reef ecosystem. You will learn about the three types of coral reefs as well as the many plants and animals that work together and depend on each other in the oldest, most productive ecosystem on Earth.

What is a Coral Reef?

Imagine putting on a snorkeling mask and flippers and swimming around in the warm water. Fish of many colors swim by you, and you see all different kinds of plants and tiny animals. You are exploring an underwater neighborhood that has been around for more than 200 million years, called a coral reef. Twenty-five percent of all marine life found in the ocean live in coral reefs and depend on each other for survival.

A coral reef is made up of thousands of tiny animals called coral polyps. Some coral polyps are hard, like brain coral and Elkhorn coral, while other corals, like sea fans and carnation coral, are soft. These thousands of animals all live together in a small area. It is kind of like having to share a room with 1,000 brothers or sisters. While that may sound horrible to you, the coral polyps have to live this way to survive.

Each small circle is a coral polyp.
Coral Polyp

Living alongside the coral polyps are tiny plant-like things called algae. These tiny animal polyps and algae have grown together to create a large structure called a coral reef. This coral reef is home for thousands of species of plants and animals.

The colonies of coral grow in warm, tropical waters close to the surface and are usually found near areas with waves. The waves help bring in food, nutrients, and oxygen to support the plants and animals that live in the coral reefs.

Types of Coral Reefs

There are three types of coral reefs. The fringing reef, which grows directly off the shoreline, is the most common type of reef. A barrier reef grows parallel to the shore, but has a lagoon, or wide body of water, between the reef and the shore. Finally, an atoll is a type of reef that grows in a circle around a large, deep lagoon.

An atoll reef
atoll reef

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