Plastic carries disease to Coral Reefs

Coral Reefs are already facing a magnitude of threats, if ocean acidification and bleaching wasn’t enough, our plastic waste is increasing disease in our corals.

Over 10 million people tuned into Blue Planet 2, which means more of us are becoming aware of the detrimental effect that plastic is having on our oceans.

The plastic can block the sunlight and oxygen reaching the corals, which are vital in their survival. The research carried out at Cornell University by Joleah Lamb has also shown that plastic are ideal homes for bacteria, which can cause disease in corals delicate tissues.

Credit: Richard Witcombe

When these plastic items come in contact with corals, the likelihood of disease goes from just 4 to 89 percent. The bacteria affects the corals microbiome leading to disease such as skeletal eroding band disease, white syndromes and black band disease.

This new finding comes at a time of increased awareness of plastic pollutions. To establish the link between plastic and disease, Dr Lamb and her colleagues examined 159 coral reefs from Indonesia, Australia, Myanmar and Thailand. As well as documenting the plastic waste they saw, the scientists visually examined nearly 125,000 corals,

4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste are estimated to enter into the ocean in one year and Lamb’s team estimated that by 2025 this number is expected to increase to 15.7 billion items, this poses a huge risk to our coral reefs.

Considering this, the coral species is incredible, they have a symbiotic relationship with their algae partners, Symbiodinium which can help them withstand changing conditions. Professor Drew Harvell, a lead author on the paper hopes these findings will encourage policies which will reduce the amount of plastic going into the oceans.

“Our goal is to focus less on measuring things dying and more on finding solutions,” – Professor Drew Harvell

See video below:

Read more:

Science published paper 

Cornell University

Featured photo: Taken by Me, Kaneohe, Hawaii

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