[Coral-List] public misperceptions?

William Capman capman at augsburg.edu
Mon Apr 9 12:48:08 EDT 2012

I'm not part of the coral research community exactly, but I teach general biology (particularly biological diversity, evolution, and ecology) to first year college biology majors, and invertebrate biology to upper level biology majors.  And I maintain several large coral reef aquarium systems for teaching and for student research projects. 

The things that immediately come to mind are things you are probably aware of already, but I'll mention them anyway,  Most fundamentally, the average person has no idea what a coral is.  Some equate the word coral with coral skeletons, and so they think corals are just some sort of fancy, pretty rocks that develop in tropical oceans somehow. Many do realize that corals are alive, but even when they have seen them growing in the reef aquaria in our teaching lab for weeks or months they often think they are odd plants of some sort until they are told (and shown) otherwise.  So, an important gap in knowledge and understanding is the basic anatomy and biology of corals. 

I often say to my students that if they call a coral skeleton a coral it is like calling a human skeleton a human! 

I would think that anything you can do to have the general public come to better understand what corals are (and how they live, and especially how delicate and particular they are about living conditions) would be good.   

In this regard, there is nothing like having them see and even touch live corals - the latter is something one cannot or should not do in the wild, but with my captive propagated coral colonies I'm able to allow students to touch (and even smell!) live corals, and I can put live coral colonies (e.g. small Pocillopora or Seriatopora colonies) under good quality low power microscopes with good lighting so students can better see and understand what corals are really all about (and so they can marvel at their intricacy and beauty!).  There is nothing like touching a live brain coral and watching it react to your touch - I have a small colony about the size of the palm of my hand (that I propagated from a larger colony in my tanks) that has been touched (gently, and with me controlling the situation) by several hundred students over the years and is none the worse for wear - this colony is a great ambassador for the coral reefs!...... I emphasize to my students that touching corals is something to never do in the wild, by the way!).  Without access to live corals like I have, diagrams as well as good quality videos or photos would be almost essential teaching tools (and indeed, I use these myself alongside my live corals). 

Also, helping the general public to understand the importance of corals in the creation of the most diverse marine ecosystems on Earth would also be useful of course, as would be an understanding of how endangered corals and the reefs they create are.  But these latter topics probably go without saying.

>>> Ellen Prager <pragere at earthlink.net> 4/8/2012 10:02 AM >>>
Dear Colleagues

Are there specific misperceptions that you repeatedly come across when 
giving talks or interacting with the public?

I'm looking for topics that deal with coral reefs, or more general 
ocean or earth science.

I certainly have a few in mind.  For example, that the sun shining 
through the ozone hole is responsible for global warming or all corals 
live in tropical oceans.

But I would love to get some input from the community.  If you've got 
topics you'd like to see the public be better informed about, please 
send me an email!!!!


Dr. Ellen Prager
pragere at earthlink.net
Earth2Ocean, Inc
Author 2011 book, Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Ocean's Oddest 
Creatures and Why They Matter

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