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What is coral bleaching?

National Ocean Service, NOAA

This infographic provides an overview of what coral bleaching is and its causes. The resource combines short summaries of the steps of coral bleaching with more in-depth (though still succinct) explanations for what is happening to cause the coral to appear white. A short list of causes for coral bleaching is also provided.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Static Visualization supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 1 Cross Cutting Concept
High School: 1 Disciplinary Core Idea

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate's role in habitats ranges and adaptation of species to climate changes
About Teaching Principle 3
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Climate impacts ecosystems and past species extinctions
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Other materials addressing 3c
Evidence is that human impacts are playing an increasing role in climate change
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Other materials addressing 4f
Evidence shows that human-caused global warming have impacted ecosystem resulting in reduced biodiversity and ecological resilience
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Other materials addressing 6d
Humans affect climate
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Increased acidity of oceans and negative impacts on food chain due to increasing carbon dioxide levels
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Other materials addressing 7d
Ecosystems on land and in the ocean have been and will continue to be disturbed by climate change
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Other materials addressing 7e
Climate change has consequences
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Other materials addressing Climate change has consequences

Energy Literacy

Food is a biofuel used by organisms to acquire energy for internal living processes.
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3.2 Food is a biofuel.
Energy flows through food webs in one direction, from producers to consumers and decomposers.
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3.4 Energy flows through food webs.
Ecosystems are affected by changes in the availability of energy and matter.
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3.5 Ecosystems are affected by availability of energy..
Biological processes depend on energy flow through the Earth system.
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Biological processes depend on energy flow.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • The infographic would provide a good introduction or short classroom reading and/or discussion activity.
  • It is recommended that the instructor explores the causes of coral bleaching more in-depth to avoid potential misconceptions about how they influence and can lead to coral bleaching.
  • The links provided on the web page can be used to supplement, allowing for more in-depth exploration of the topic.

About the Science

  • This high-quality infographic is from the NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program. It clearly illustrates the main causes of coral bleaching and simply describes the difference between healthy, stressed, and bleached coral in an easy-to-read manner with visual appeal.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths:
    - Infographic clearly explains in 3 steps the possible fate of corals
    - Explanation that zooxanthellae are algae living in the coral providing nutrients and color to the corals
    - Explanation that when corals are bleached, they are not necessarily dead and can recover

About the Pedagogy

  • This 1-page infographic provides a straightforward explanation of what coral bleaching is and what causes it. It is a useful tool for introducing climate change impacts on ecosystems. Additional links to other NOAA resources about corals are provided (e.g., corals tutorial, the coral reef ecosystems, coral health and monitoring program, etc.), which can be used to supplement the infographic with more details about corals and climate change.
  • Infographic format allows students with lower reading abilities to gain information.
  • Spanish version of infographic is available.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Infographic format allows information to be downloaded or viewed online.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Static Visualization supports:

Middle School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

MS-ESS3.C1:Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth’s environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 1

Cause and effect

MS-C2.1:Relationships can be classified as causal or correlational, and correlation does not necessarily imply causation.

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

HS-ESS3.D2:Through computer simulations and other studies, important discoveries are still being made about how the ocean, the atmosphere, and the biosphere interact and are modified in response to human activities.

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