Coral and Chemistry

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In this experiment, learners will explore whether increased carbon dioxide makes our oceans more basic or more acidic. They will learn that these changes are impacting the oceanic pH and the coral reefs, which need a certain pH to survive. This lesson provides a hands on approach of showing how human alterations of the atmosphere are changing the pH of the ocean and threatening the survival of many of its species. This detailed lesson guide is standards based, includes key vocabulary, discussion questions, background information for educators, and extension ideas. [Activity is publicly available through a web crawler capture on]

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per student

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Experiment/Lab Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per student)

  • Large, clear jars or cups (3)
  • Small, clear jars with lids - baby food jars work well (1 per student)
  • straws (1 per student)
  • red cabbage juice (to fill each small jar about 1 inch high) and each large jar about 2
  • common household acid (vinegar or lemon juice)
  • common household base (baking soda or ammonia cleaning product)
  • 5% hydrochloric acid solution (5:100 dilution, which means 5 parts acid and 95 parts water)
  • gloves
  • goggles
  • eyedropper
  • container or tray into which you will drop a small amount of 5% hydrochloric acid solution
  • Tums (a few tablets)
  • Coral and Chemistry Worksheet (1 per student)
  • Map - Where in the World is Coral?
  • coral reef video (optional)


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Oceans and Water
      • Atmosphere
  • Life Sciences
    • Ecology
      • Ecosystems
      • Energy Flow and Chemical Cycles
  • Physical Sciences
    • Chemistry
      • Acids and Bases
      • Chemistry of Life


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see color
  • touch


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • California Academy of Sciences


  • , California Academy of Sciences, 2008