Coral reefs are important ecosystems in the world’s oceans, and the interaction of the coral animals, the hard skeletons they secrete, their algal symbiotes, and all of the creatures that live on and around coral reefs can be complex and dynamic.
Unfortunately, unlike other dynamic ecosystems the campers learn about during OCG, like mangrove forests or barrier islands, there are no easily observable coral reefs near St. Petersburg. In order to teach the campers about the physical features and environmental factors at play on coral reefs, therefore, we have to rely on creating scale models. In order to foster camper engagement and cut down on physical waste, instead of using traditional materials like clay or paper mâché, we instead use food! This promotes speedy and efficient model creation, and is easily disposed of with the help of campers (and occasionally staff :).
After learning about the large scale features of reefs, the dominant shapes of coral and their preferred habitat depths (including branching coral (pretzel sticks), head coral (mini muffins) and plate coral (cookies), and other important reef constituents like the encrusting coralline algae that helps bind together the parts of the reef (pink frosting), algal-eating urchins (chocolate chips), or bioeroding parrotfish (goldfish crackers), the campers recreate the reef in delicious food-format.
At the end, the campers do the job of millions of years’ worth of erosional in processes in a few minutes: consuming the reef, associated biological community and all!