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Oceanographer Lauren Toth publishes lesson plan to teach how climate influences coral growth

Research Oceanographer Lauren Toth from the St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center co-authored a lesson plan published in Oceanography to teach how climate and oceanography influence the long-term growth of coral reefs.

Four panel image displaying corals in degraded versus good condition up close and on a coral reef.
Key used in an educational lesson plan for identifying the composition and condition of corals and coralline algae in a core. (a) Two examples of Pocillopora in good taphonomic condition (<50% erosion or encrustation of the skeleton). Intervals in cores during which Pocillopora skeletons dominate and are in good condition represent times of good coral growth and active reef development (b). (c) Example of core constituents from an interval representing poor coral growth and interrupted reef development (d). Such intervals are dominated by Pocillopora skeletons in poor taphonomic condition (“Poc. Poor”), Psammocora stellata skeletons (“Psam.”), and/or coralline algae (>50% erosion or encrustation of the skeleton). (Credit: Lauren Toth, USGS. Public domain.)

Lauren Toth recently collaborated with Phil Gravinese at Mote Marine Laboratory and Rich Aronson from Florida Institute of Technology to develop a lesson plan about how climate and oceanography influence the long-term growth of coral reefs. The lesson is to be used for high school students and undergraduates in biology, marine biology, environmental chemistry, and oceanography courses. The lesson is part of the outreach component of an NSF grant the authors received to study the effects of climate and oceanographic processes on reefs in Pacific Panama. In this lesson, students will: 1) characterize the species composition and condition of coral reefs from different time periods in the past using cores that reveal reef architecture, 2) calculate the rate of calcium carbonate accretion (production) of the reefs during those past time intervals, and 3) reconstruct trends in past climatic conditions using a mock data set. The use of this lesson can help students better understand the influences that affect the growth of coral reefs. Understanding these links is important for these fragile ecosystems since they support diverse wildlife, provide ecosystem services, and can help protect coastal communities. This lesson plan will also help develop students’ interest in the natural sciences to support future research efforts for these ecosystems.

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