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This module is designed to be used by both teachers/educators and students. Throughout the module certain sections are labeled "ADVANCED" and they are generally written for teachers or educators to gain greater depth of understanding the topics. Students in 10-12 grade can also use these sections to go in greater depth on the subject materials. Sections of this module are identified as "FANCY WORDS"  and contain important vocabulary.   Sections identified as "DYLAN EXPLAINS", are lesson and discussion material.  "STEPS" marks actions to be taken as a project based activity.  PREPARATION denotes items that the teacher/educator might need to have in advance. 


PREPARATION What will you need in for this module?

  1. Access to the internet with the ability to view the ReefQuest Virtual Reef. This may require a browser plug-in to be automatically installed the first time, (Silverlight from Microsoft). If you are prompted to allow its installation, please do so. Verify that each computer you will be using is working correctly with the Virtual Reef, and has the plug-in installed by accessing the Virtual Reef at least once and navigating around any of the transects. Your computer(s) should also have the latest updates to the browser and operating system. The Virtual Reef has been tested with both Windows (XP or later) and Macintosh (Os X or later). The Virtual Reef does not yet work with mobile devices such as iPAD or iPHONE or ANDROID-based tablets. The Virtual Reef will work with Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Safari browsers. We have not yet tested the support of the Virtual Reef with the Chrome browser.


National Education Science Standards

This activity is aligned to these National Science Education Standards. This activity is designed to be spiraling, targeted to 9-10 grades, however, educators can easily adapt this module for 8-9 grades by skipping the ADVANCED topics or if they interpret the background materials for their students. 




DYLAN EXPLAINS  Are you Ecologically Minded?


Hi I am Dylan and some people have also called me a coral nerd!  I do not mind, but I prefer to think of myself as someone who has had the good fortune to get close to one of the most amazing living organisms on earth: coral.

When I first dove on a coral reef, I emerged from it deeply touched by the beautiful and strange world of coral reefs. I was excited knowing that it is a world  mostly still unexplored. It has been estimated that only 25% of marine species have been discovered. Coral reefs are deeply interconnected with the health of the oceans and therefore to life itself on planet Earth.

I hope to take you in a journey of discovery where you can get to know coral reefs and more importantly take part in exploring them, and help discover new science about them. What you will be learning here is not just science: it will allow you to become a protagonist in science research through something I call citizen science. Citizen science is a process where by all of us, with the right training, can engage in collecting and analyzing real scientific data, and ultimately help scientists advance scientific knowledge.

So are you ready to become a citizen scientist? We will use technology to transport you to some of the most unique coral reefs on the planet and join into scientific explorations.

Much of what we are going to do relates to the broad subject of ecology. Ecology has been described as the study of interactions between an organisms and their environment, (both physical and  biological).  All living organisms interact in some way with their environment. Just think about all the "interactions" we go through at school..... (I will spare you the details!).

Interactions might involve members of one's own species as well as other species.  Coral reefs are one of the planet's most biodiverse and ecologically complex ecosystems. Coral reefs are more biodiverese than even the rain-forests. For this reason, coral reefs are not only interesting to study, but provide lessons about ecology for the entire planet.

In this module we are going to explore the basics of ecology and ecosystems, and understand some of the basic concepts needed to study them. We are also going to engage in a few activities using an online tool called the "virtual reef".  Are you ready to scuba dive "virtually" without getting wet? Through the virtual reef you will be able to explore real coral reef ecosystems, up-close. I spent many years building the virtual reef so you can now use it. I hope you will have fun while learning.


FANCY WORDS Within their biological environments, organisms can be organized into distinct groupings:

  • Species -- A group of organisms that can interbreed. 
  • Community -- Several different species occurring together, within a defined ares. 
  • Population -- Al of the individuals of a species within a defined areas.


DYLAN EXPLAINS What makes up an ecosystem

An ecological system (ecosystem) is made up of a variety of different communities and includes both a biotic (living or biological) component and abiotic (non-living) component (such as climate, physical energy, geological layout). All ecosystems require an ultimate source of energy, (usually the sun), which is then transformed into organic (biologically produced energy) by various types of organisms. These are called Primary Producers, usually marine plants, seaweed or phytoplankton in the ocean. This organic energy can then be used by organisms that feed on the primary producers, (Herbivores) or that feed on their decaying remains after they die (Decomposers). Herbivores are in turn prey for organisms that feed only on animals (Carnivores).

Certain inorganic materials such as oxygen, water and minerals are often cycled among and between the abiotic and biotic components of the ecosystem. 

As part of its biotic component, organisms may interact with each other in a number of ways: 

  • Predation occurs when one organism kills and consumes another organism.
  • Competition occurs when two or more organisms vie for the same resource which is in limited supply; this could be an abiotic component such as space or a biotic one such as food or access to a mate. 
  • Symbiosis occurs when two or more different organisms share a close association with each other. 


STEPS  School Ecosystems

Let's put what we learned to work! Think of your school. Let's pretend that the school is an ecosystem, (some kids think of it as such....)

  1. Create of a classification for all that populates your school's ecosystem. Think in terms of teachers, students, staff as well as all objects and structures they might be interacting with. Write down that classification.
  2. Now think in terms of interactions. What are the main interactions of your school ecosystem? Which ones are biotic vs. abiotic? Develop a diagram using stick figures for your school's ecosystem and interactions, similar to that shown above for the ocean.
  3. Identify the ultimate source of energy for your ecosystem. 
  4. Post your work as a comment to this capsule. We want to know about your school!


FANCY WORDS  Taxonomy= The Science of Classification

ADVANCED All living things from the smallest bacteria to trees, mushroom and whales can be classified into five Kingdoms. 

All of the organisms pictured above belong to the kingdom Animallia. By the way, I took all of these pictures during my dives. In another module we will talk about how take underwater photography. When you look at these examples,  you can also see that there are sharp differences, as well as commonalities that help us organize them into smaller groups, based on shared characteristics.

The largest grouping within a kingdom is called a Phylum; each of the animals shown below, as an example,  is in the phylum Chordata, based on each having a backbone-like structure, a cord possessing a nervous system and pouches associated with gills. We can further separate these into smaller groupings called Classes: one of such class consists of chordates possessing an internal skeleton made of bone, gills, fins and scales that cover their body.

The animals in the picture belong to the class Osteichtynes (meaning "bony fishes").  Whithin the bony fishes are many families of fishes. Onse such family which is very common on Hawaiian coral reefs is the Butterflyfish family (Chaetodontiae); a Butterflyfish is shown on the left. 

Unique types of animals within a family can be grouped based upon a two part scientific name. The first part is called a Genus and is always capitalized; the second part is the species name and is not capitalized.

Such system of classification becomes very important when trying to speak about organisms to other people, especially those in other areas. For example the fish shown on the left above is called Kikakapu in Hawaiian, but there are other types of fish also called the same. The common English name is the "Ornate Butterflyfish" but the same common names are often used elsewhere to describe completely different animals, hence the importance of using scientific names. Think of it like you own name: often your first name is common, and shared by many people, but along with your last name, it becomes something  that makes you a unique individual who other people can recognize. The fish shown on the left  is in the genus Chaetodon, in which there are many species of Butterflyfish. But it is a unique Chaetodon, which has been given the species name of ornatus


STEPS  Help us Classify Virtual Reef Fish

Let;s put what you have learned to work!  Our virtual reef team has captured many pictures of fish which remain un-identified. Can you help us correctly identify them? 

  1. Use a digital fish library as a reference. My favorite is the REEF Fish Library (http://www.reef.org/resources/galleries). Select Hawaii and scroll through the visual identification. 
  2. Go to the ReefQuest photo web page, (http://reefquest.ning.com/photo/album/list), select the Virtual Reef album.
  3. For each image, and as many images if you can, use the fish library to identify each fish, then use the comment field to add the scientific name and the common english name. Do this for as many fish as you feel like. If someone else has already identified a fish see if you agree. Do not be shy to write your comments. Our experts want to have as many opinions as possible. 


For more reading

1. D. Gulko, Hawaiian Coral Reef Ecology, Mutual Publishing, 1998

2. John Hoover, Hawaiian Reef Fishes, Mutual Publishing, 2008



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