Plastic Trash Is Spreading Diseases In Coral Reefs: Study

Posted: Jan 28 2018, 12:21pm CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

Plastic Trash is Spreading Diseases in Coral Reefs: Study
Dr. Lamb performing reef surveys on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Credit: By: John Rumney

Ocean plastic is killing corals by increasing risk of disease in them

Coral reefs are undoubtedly in deep trouble. Global warming and bleaching events are already destroying coral reef systems across the globe. Now, researchers have found that plastic waste is also contributing to this trend by making them highly vulnerable to several potentially fatal diseases.

“Plastic debris acts like a marine motorhome for microbes,” said study lead author Joleah Lamb from Cornell University. “Plastics make ideal vessels for colonizing microscopic organisms that could trigger disease if they come into contact with corals. Plastic items – commonly made of polyprophylene, such as bottle caps and toothbrushes – have been shown to become heavily inhabited by bacteria. This is associated with the globally devastating group of coral diseases known as white syndromes.”

To arrive at the conclusion, researchers surveyed 159 coral reefs from Indonesia, Australia, Myanmar and Thailand between 2011 and 2014 and observed a clear correlation between plastic waste and coral reef sickness. Researchers found that the likelihood of a disease in coral reef was only 4% in the areas of ocean without plastic debris, but it jumped to 89% when plastic came into contact with corals. The number represent a 20-fold risk of disease outbreaks in coral reefs.

This study is the first to show the effect of plastic debris on coral reefs.

“Our work shows that plastic pollution is killing corals. Our goal is to focus less on measuring things dying and more on finding solutions,” said co-author Drew Harvell. “While we can’t stop the huge impact of global warming on coral health in the short term, this new work should drive policy toward reducing plastic pollution.”

The number of plastic debris varied significantly from one place to another. In Australia, 0.4 plastic items were observed in every 100 square meters of ocean area while the number rose up to 25.6 meters in Indonesia. Overall, about 11 billion plastic items are entangled on coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific region. Researchers estimate that this will increase to more than 15 billion by 2025. The growing number of plastic debris could infect coral reefs with skeletal eroding band disease, white syndromes and black band disease, which could lead to far-reaching negative consequences.

“Corals are creating a habitat for other species, and reefs are critical to fisheries,” said Lamb. “This study demonstrates that reductions in the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean will have direct benefits coral reefs by reducing disease-associated mortality.”

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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