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Shell shock: how does pollution affect coral?

THINK: Are organisms such as plants and fish more likely to live in clear water or in muddy, polluted water?

PREDICT: Coral consists of small underwater organisms that produce hard, limestone shells. These shells protect the organisms from enemies. Coral is very sensitive: It can only exist in warm, clean water. What do you think might happen if you spilled a pollutant into the water where coral grows? Do you think it would affect the coral's shell?

You'll Need

* 2 clear plastic cups

* Permanent marker

* 2 antacid tablets rich in
calcium carbonate (such as

* 1/2 cup water

* 1/4 cup distilled white

* Clock or a watch


[]1. Use a marker to label one plastic
cup "clean water," and a second cup
"polluted water."

[]2. Pick up two antacid tablets and drop
one into each cup. Since the limestone
shells of coral are made of an odorless
compound called calcium carbonate
(CAL-see-uhm CAR-bohn-ate), each
antacid tablet will represent a coral.

[]3. Pour 1/4 cup of water into each cup
over the tablets.

[]4. In the cup labeled "polluted water,"
add 1/4 cup of vinegar. The vinegar
represents a pollution-causing chemical.

[]5. Observe the two "corals" for about
one minute. Compare the water and coral
in each cup.

For Grades K-4

* Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

* Properties of objects and materials

For Grades 5-8

* Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

* Properties and changes of properties of matter


Life Skills-Following directions


ESTIMATED TIME: 15 minutes

Discussion Question

* Do you think that water pollution has an effect on the organisms that live in the water? If so, how? (Possible answers: It changes the chemical makeup of the water, causing organisms to die or behave differently; organisms that eat materials dumped into water could die.)



1. After one minute, how was the water in the polluted cup different from the water in the clean cup?

2. Why do you think the water in the polluted cup looked like this?

3. How might a chemical pollutant affect coral shells?

1. The "polluted" water appeared cloudier than the "clean" water.

2. The vinegar caused the antacid to break down. The residue from this reaction made the water appear cloudy.

3. A chemical pollutant could cause coral shells to break down.


* The kids page of this Australian water-monitoring program features more information about water pollution and how it's being monitored.

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Title Annotation:hands-on
Date:Apr 1, 2006
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