Kids in the Hall of Biodiversity: Articles
Why are coral reefs important to all life?
We have all probably heard a lot about the rainforests and how important it is to try to save them. But what we don't hear a lot about are coral reefs. Coral reefs are just as important to the world as rainforests. In fact, they are often called the rainforests of the sea.
Just as the rainforests are home to a million species of land plants and animals, coral reefs are home to nearly a million aquatic species, including sponges, shrimps, crabs, jellyfish, snails, oysters, clams, and of course, fish. Three thousand of these creatures may live together in one reef. The coral protects the animals from their predators, and provides them with food, shelter, and a place to have babies.
Coral reefs are also called the rainforests of the sea because just like rainforests, many materials found in them can be used for medicine. Medicines that could be used to treat cancer have been found in the coral. It can also be used to repair human bone. Many organisms found within the reef can also be used in medicine.
But the biggest similarity between rainforests and coral reefs is that, like rainforests, coral reefs are being destroyed. The main reason? Dirty water. Chemicals used in farming can be harmful to the coral. The chemicals can wash out into the sea when it rains. Also, sewage and waste is dumped into the sea. This creates an overgrowth of algae which can grow on the bottom of the reef and smother it.
Just as we need to preserve the rainforest, we also need to preserve the coral reefs. Without them, the millions of species living in them will not be able to survive.
WHAT IS A CORAL REEF?
A coral is a small marine animal that belongs to the anthozoa family. These tiny creatures usually live together in colonies. A coral will produce a cup-shaped skeleton around itself. It continues skeleton growth until it dies, whereupon new corals will produce skeletons on top of the old ones, creating new layers. Over time, this forms a coral reef.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP:
1. Don't throw your trash in or around the reefs.
2. When snorkeling, control your flippers and snorkels to make sure they don't touch the coral.
3. Don't stand or sit on the coral.
4. Don't feed or touch the fish.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON HOW YOU CAN HELP SAVE CORAL REEFS, CONTACT:
Ever wonder where chocolate comes from?
How often do you snack on chocolate bars while watching TV? When was the last time that you bit into a huge piece of chocolate cake at a birthday party? What most of us don't know is that when we are munching on one of our favorite foods, we are really eating a snack that could be in danger of extinction.
Chocolate just doesn't fall off of a chocolate tree in the form of a Hershey's kiss or a Snickers bar. It is actually made from a very bitter bean called the cacao bean which comes from the cacao tree. These beans are prepared in a special process that was invented by the Aztec people, who lived in Mexico over 3000 years ago. The process goes something like this:
First, the beans are left to sit in their own juice for five days. This kills their seeds and turns them into a liquid. Next, the beans are dried in the sun for about two weeks. They are then roasted for two weeks which gives the end mixture its flavor. This mixture is what Aztecs consider chocolate. But because there is no sugar added yet, the mixture is still very bitter.
To make chocolate sweet, the way we usually like it, we have to add a whole lot of sugar and butter. This step was made famous by a man named Milton Snavely Hershey (does his last name sound a little familiar?).
So why, you may ask, is chocolate considered potentially endangered? Well, as we just learned, chocolate is made from the cacao bean, which comes from the cacao tree. This tree needs a special environment, called a rainforest, in which to grow. Also, the cacao tree needs a tiny insect, called a midge to pollinate its flowers so that other cacao trees can grow. The midge also lives in the rainforest.
The big problem is that the rainforest is being cut down. At one point, farmers began cutting down the rainforest to get more land to grow cacao trees. But this was a bad plan. What they learned is that the cacao tree grows better and healthier if it is planted inside the rainforest. The tree will still be able to be pollinated by the midge and have the shade of the rainforest that it loves. By planting the tree in this way, both the chocoholics and the rainforest will be happy. This is called sustainable development.
Chocolate could be in danger of extinction, but if we all do our part to help save the rainforests, chocolate cake, milk, and candy bars will be around for years to come.
Here are some fun facts about chocolate:
1. Cacao beans were used as money in Mesoamerica.
2. The world's supply of chocolate is dependent on the midge, a fly the size of the head of a pin.
3. Christopher Columbus was the first European to try chocolate.
4. The Aztecs drank a liquid made of chocolate, chili powder, and vanilla. (yuck!)
More About This Resource...
This two-part article is part of the museum's Kids in Our Halls program, which was created by high school interns at the Museum.
- "Why are coral reefs important to all life?" is an overview of these "rain forests of the sea," examining how they are home to millions of aquatic species, why they are at risk, and what can be done to help preserve them.
- "Ever wonder where chocolate comes from?" takes a look at where chocolate comes from, how cacao beans are prepared using a 300-year-old process invented by the Aztecs, and the reasons why cacao trees are potentially endangered.
Less than 1 period
Supplement a study of biodiversity with an activity drawn from this online article.
- Ask the class what, if anything, they think coral reefs and chocolate have in common.
- Send students to this online article, or print copies of the essay for them to read.
- Have students write a one-page response to the article that discusses what they learned about the similar threats facing coral reefs and chocolate.