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Coral reef zones

This activity helps to understand that the coral reef has different zones with different conditions, such as the force of waves, depth and access to light. Each of these zones is home to different types of coral. Make your own reef and then models of different coral types and place them in the correct area on the reef.

Ages 9+

40 minutes

(1 hour waiting time)

We describe a method that makes quite a realistic reef using a plastic box, clay and sand, but feel feel free to adapt this activity using building blocks or other shapes.

Activity steps - making a reef

  1. You will first need to make your model reef. Take your plastic box and place the heavy items in the bottom that will make up the structure of your reef. You are looking for the shape shown below: a reef flat or lagoon, gently sloping up to the reef crest and then curving down to the fore reef and then the reef slope.
  2. If you are using clay to create your reef, then roll out a layer of clay using a rolling pin or glass bottle and lay this over the heavy items.
  3. Decorate the wet clay with sand to create a more realistic effect, then leave this to dry out for at least an hour.

Activity steps - adding coral

  1. You are now going to add five different types of coral to your reef zone model. These are: branching coral, boulder coral, encrusting coral, branching plate coral and plate coral.
  2. Make models of each of these out of play dough or modelling clay. You can use the Gallery: Zones on the reef or Gallery: Coral ID to help with your coral modelling.
  3. Think about how depth and wave action might affect the zones where these different corals can be found.

Safety guidance

  • Take care when using heavy objects and work in the centre of a table or work surface.
  • If you spill any water, clear it up quickly to avoid any slips.

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