Coral reefs are some of our planet’s most beautiful and vital ecosystems. Created by corals, reef systems provide both food and shelter to a large variety of animals. These amazing animals sustain around 25% of ocean life, even though they only make up about 1% of the ocean. Not only are animals able to live in the reefs, but the algae that grows on the corals is an important food source for several different organisms. Corals and algae are in what we call a symbiotic relationship – meaning they both benefit from each other. Corals provide algae with a place to grow; at the same time, corals gain energy through the algae’s photosynthesis.
So what are corals? Corals are tiny animals, called polyps, that group together to form a larger structure. Once an initial skeletal structure is formed, tissue can begin to grow. Once tissue has formed, some corals maintain a rigid appearance (like staghorn coral), while other corals are soft (like waving hand coral). As you could imagine, the appearance and traits of corals are incredibly diverse. As unique as corals are, they all face similar issues in the ocean. Corals have very specific environments that they inhabit. These environments are negatively affected by climate change, but we can help corals by reducing our carbon footprint and fighting ocean pollution.
Now, for our DIY activity: here’s how you can craft a coral reef of your own!
What you’ll need: Coffee filters, pipe cleaners, bowls, water, food coloring
Step 1: Fill your bowls with about an inch of water and food coloring. You can have as many bowls and colors as you would like! Just remember that more food coloring = brighter colors.
Step 2: Place your coffee filters upside down in the water. Be sure to allow the color to travel throughout the whole filter. (For younger kids, this can be a great opportunity to teach them about color mixing!) Once the color has made its way through the whole filter, set filters aside to dry overnight. Low on time? This process can be sped up with the help of a blow dryer.
Step 3: Stack 2-4 coffee filters together, then push a pipe cleaner through the center. You will want to twist the end of the pipe cleaner into a small ball to keep the filters from sliding off. This will serve as the center of your coral.
Step 4: Pinch the bottom of the filters around the pipe cleaner, then wrap the pipe cleaner around the pinched section; this keeps the coral together.
Step 5: Repeat the process to create as many corals as you would like! In this way, you can create your own reef! Feel free to get even more creative by adding toy animals or whatever else you’d like to see in your reef. For an added challenge, research different types of corals and animals living together in the ocean and try to build your reef based off of that environment!