What's Going On?

Remarkable reef

Activity overview

15 mins
Ages 5 – 7

Science topics:

Animals, including humans , Living things and their habitats , Climate challenge

Spark a conversation with this video showing life on a coral reef. This activity is great for describing observations and applying ideas in unfamiliar contexts.

Run the activity

In this activity, the italic sections marked with the polar bear explain how you can link the children's learning to the Climate Challenge, and support the children to take positive action.

1. You’re going to watch a short video. The aim isn't to find right answers, it's to explore ideas and find out what they know.

  • Do they know what might happen based on the image?

2. After you've watched the video, lead a discussion with your class:

  • Do you think the water in this underwater habitat is warm or cold? 

  • Can you name any of the living things you see in the film? 

  • Can you think of a food chain for this habitat? 

  • Where in the world do you think this coral reef might be? 

  • Do you think that coral reefs need protection? 

  • What could you do that might help protect this habitat? 

3. Ask the class to describe what they saw using only one word.

Background science

When teaching children about the Climate Challenge, it is important that we give them the facts (age appropriately and sensitively). During your discussion, allow time for children to express their thoughts and feelings and have them validated.

This video shows some of the activity that goes on in a coral reef. Part of this clip is of a reef in the Red Sea, near Egypt. There are over 350 different types of coral in this reef. It’s incredible that coral reefs are home to 25% of the world’s sea life and that the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the largest living thing on Earth. It's about the same size as the country of Italy. Coral reefs are found all over the world, even in the cold water off the coast of Norway.  

Coral reefs are being damaged by pollution and climate change (which makes the water warmer and more acidic). Many people are working hard to clean up pollution on the land and sea. About a third of the world’s coral reefs are protected and we can all help by spreading the word about how beautiful and important they are. 

Watch out for...  

Lots of people think that coral is a plant but it is actually an animal.  Each piece of coral is made up of thousands of tiny animals called polyps. One of the reasons coral isn't classified as a plant is because it doesn't make its own food, whereas plants do. Corals feed on tiny floating animals, like plankton. The colour that we see in corals is provided by the photosynthetic pigments of algae (tiny plants) that live in the coral or from fluorescent proteins that are thought to protect the coral from harmful UV rays - a bit like a sunscreen. This does not need to be corrected during the session, but you can pick it up later. 

Take it further

After giving children the information they need about Climate Challenge issues, give them time to express how they feel, empathising with them and validating their feelings before taking it further.  


This simple shell experiment is a great opportunity to talk about the effects of ocean acidification. Get crafty, making your own coral reef using some of the ideas here. Explore our wonderful oceans further with these Encounter Edu lessons.  

To see a range of underwater habitats with Explorify, try In the swim


Watch this Encounter Edu video exploring the many species of animals on the reef, or this clip from the Blue Planet.  

Discuss with the children what could be done to help and if there is a positive action they can take themselves. Explain that when lots of people carry out small positive changes, it can have a big impact overall.

Positive action

To help protect the coral reef, one of the actions suggested by the National Oceans Service is to not waste water as it all eventually finds its way back to the oceans. Can the children think about ways that they could do this? Maybe they could make a promise to not leave the tap running when they clean their teeth? For more ideas on small positive steps to help the planet, read our article on The Climate Challenge.

Video credits:

Black-banded sea krait © BBC Natural History

Red-coloured sea fan off Kerema Islands © NHK

Sealife - Marsa Alam © cinoby

Anemonefish, Clownfish © mario31

All via Getty Images

Music credit:

Blossom © Dvorkin, Pittock, Kidd, Published by Audio Network