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Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean

“Caring for ourselves and our environment is the first step to caring for the rest of the world” — Narrator, Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean, p. 107.

Creator(s) Maris Wicks (author)
PublisherFirst Second
Publication Date2016
GenreEducational, Nonfiction
Environmental Themes and Issues Educational Nature Facts, Anthropomorphism, Conservation, Ocean Conservation, Pollution, Plastics, Habitat Destruction, Climate Change, Coral Reef Bleaching, Animals in Danger, Environmental Activism, Fuel Extraction or Shortages
Protagonist’s Identity Narrator: An anthropomorphized bony fish with no identified gender (Nonhuman/Animal)
Protagonist’s Level of Environmental AgencyLevel 4: Considerable Environmental Agency without Activism
Target Audience Middle Grade (8 to 12 years)
Settings Ocean
Cover of Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean

Environmental Themes

Maris Wicks’ Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean is one of the first volumes of the Science Comics series. Each volume of the graphic nonfiction series was created by different authors/illustrators and provides a detailed, scientific introduction to a specific topic, such as trees or dogs. Narrated by an anthropomorphized, talking bony fish with glasses, this installment teaches the target audience of middle-grade readers about coral reefs. In simple, easy-to-understand language, the comic educates readers about the biology of coral, their natural habitats, their inhabitants, and their environmental needs. Alongside the scientific information conveyed in the written narration, creator Maris Wicks includes accompanying illustrations that often feature humorous dialogue from the coral and other marine creatures. For instance, the narrator informs the reader, “Deep-sea corals… lack the algae zooxanthellae and do not need sunlight to survive. Instead, they trap and eat tiny plankton.” The panel’s illustration depicts a group of coral. In speech bubbles, one coral says, “I can’t see ’em, but I can taste ’em.” A neighboring coral responds, “Mmmm… plankton!” (Wicks 22). This interplay between the factual text and the humorous illustrations prevents the comic from being overly didactic or reading like a textbook.

Humorous dialogue from the coral reefs themselves supplements the narrator’s informative discussion of the organisms in Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean.

In addition to conveying information about the coral reefs themselves, the narrator also highlights the ways that the organisms fit into larger ecosystems. For example, the comic emphasizes the important role that coral reefs play in food webs, with the narrator noting, “Coral reefs aren’t just a habitat and food source for the animals that live there, they are also a food source or livelihood for over 1 BILLION human beings!” (Wicks 28). Wicks also profiles many of the other species that rely on coral reefs, such as octopi and sea cucumbers. Furthermore, the comic examines how coral reefs fit into the global ecosystem by contributing to the production of oxygen and the water cycle.

The narrator suggests ways that readers can participate in small-scale forms of environmental activism in Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean.

Significantly, the comic also educates readers about the impact of human actions on coral reefs. The narrator provides an overview of climate change and its causes, as well as information about the ways that climate change harms coral reefs through coral bleaching and ocean acidification. The comic also covers pollution and habitat loss. The narrating fish suggests small-scale, individual actions that readers can undertake to help combat these environmental problems, including car pooling, using reusable water bottles and snack bags, encouraging their school or house to start a recycling and composting plan, planting a tree, and participating in a trail or beach cleanup. The fish also encourages readers to engage in political activism by writing to their local or regional government to express their concern about coral reefs. Despite the dire environmental issues detailed in the comic, the narrator has an optimistic outlook, stating, “Even though the challenges that our planet faces might seem scary or sad… feel good that you are already helping to solve these problems… just by learning about coral reefs!” (Wicks 101). This emphasis on what readers have already done and can do to help the ocean reefs encourages the audience to build on what they have learned from the comic by engaging in environmental activism.


The comic includes a preface by marine scientist Randi Rotjan. She discusses her personal experiences scuba diving near coral reefs and suggests ways that young readers can help protect the environment, such as planting milkweed and avoiding single-use plastics. Rotjan encourages readers to find ways to help even “if you’ve never even seen a coral reef.” She adds, “If you get into the habit of making choices with the environment in mind, you will be making our planet a better place. You make choices that impact the environment with every dollar you spend, every action you take, and every vote you cast. A few good choices can make a huge difference” (n. pag.).

Additionally, the comic’s back matter includes a glossary of relevant terms, a diagram of the inside of a coral polyp, a bibliography, and a list of additional resources.

Posted in Educational, Nonfiction

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