Throughout the month of December, AiPT! is highlighting some of our favorite science-based books and activities for kids, currently with a special concentration on the “Science Comics” of First Second Books. Looking for that perfect holiday gift that educates while it entertains? Eureka, you have found it!
Science Comics (Macmillan) presents Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean, an adorable graphic novel for middle-graders about the life cycle of coral reefs, written and illustrated by Maris Wicks, who has also contributed to Spongebob, DC, and Marvel comics. While there is not a real narrative throughout the book, we are led by a chatty, yellow goby on a who’s who journey among the reef’s fish and corals.
Wicks offers the reader a detailed look at how the reefs and their inhabitants impact our environment every day, even if you’re far, far away from the ocean. Filled with whimsical drawings of how the beautiful sea structures developed, Coral Reefs shows how the abundance of sea creatures live together in one of the most diverse biological communities in the world.
Biodiversity is the variety of life found on Earth. It is a measure of the variety of organisms found in an ecosystem, that takes into account factors like genetic and cultural diversity. Coral Reefs are the hustling and bustling cities of the sea.–Maris Wicks from Coral Reefs
Our little goby tour guide leads the reader through time, starting 400 million years ago, when the first corals began to grow. It takes thousands of years to form the kind of structures we’re used to seeing in the famous, large coral formations. There are many kinds of corals, all of which live symbiotically with the colorful algae called zooxanthellae (zo-ah-zan-thell-ay). Zooxanthellae provide food and oxygen to the coral through photosynthesis, the conversion of sunlight into energy, with the help of carbon dioxide released from the coral. They rely on each other for survival, and when changes in the surrounding water’s temperature or pH occur, the fragile algae flee, leaving the corals bare and colorless.
Wicks explains that even though the reefs make up only 0.1% of the planet’s surface, the vast biodiversity living in the coral reefs makes up about 25% of all life in our oceans. The huge array of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, filter feeders, and predators that live here impact our Earth more than many of us think. According to Wicks, the algae and phytoplankton so necessary to reef survival produce 60-70% of all the oxygen in our atmosphere. As our planet warms and the ocean compositions change, these teensy creatures die off, leaving fewer producers of oxygen. This is a big problem!
Pollution is a major issue for reef life and Wicks stresses that learning to properly dispose of our trash, especially plastics, can go a long way to ensuring the survival of these vital structures. Chemicals dumped into the waters — including pharmaceuticals flushed down our plumbing systems and spills from refineries and leaky pipes — also make an impact, and are much harder to filter out of the water. Science Comics: Coral Reefs makes the case that it’s time for everyone to do what they can in order to help maintain the bountiful life our oceans hold, for as long as we do, they will ensure our lives are more abundant and rich as well.