As part of our commemoration of 2018 as the International Year of the Reef we are devoting twelve posts, one a month, to explore the different threats to and solutions for saving our vital coral reef ecosystems. This month’s post Plastic Pollution Poses a Peril to Coral Reefs brings the latest research to you.
Plastic Pollution Is Killing Coral Reefs, Study Finds
It’s quite clear how insidious a threat plastic pollution is to the ocean’s marine life. However, the danger is not just to mammals or invertebrates that ingest these bags, but also to the animals and algae that make up the reef. A new study reported in the Guardian, reveals that once the millions of tons of plastic waste sink below the surface they contaminate coral reefs. The findings of the four-year study were a result of diving on 159 coral reefs in Australia, Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar. The corals most effected are the branching corals where plastics, especially plastic bags cling. And where the plastic clings it kills!
Plastic on Corals Greatly Increases Disease!
“The likelihood of disease increases from 4 percent to 89 percent when corals are in contact with plastic,” researchers reported in the journal Science. The coral could be affected in two ways. Bacteria is abundant in the water and when the coral is abraded, pathogens might be able to enter the coral. Drew Harvell of Cornell University stated.
“It’s certainly well known that plastics abrade corals, create new openings…they basically tear open the skin of the coral and that can allow an infection from anywhere to start.”
Plastic can also block sunlight from reaching the coral. Harvell added that her team found that there was an increased risk from four diseases when plastics come in contact with corals. (photo – Kathryn Berry, Science)
Based on the amount of plastic encountered while diving, the researchers have estimated that over 11 billion plastic items are on the Asia-Pacific reefs. This study excluded the waters surrounding China, one of the most egregious sources of plastic pollution. However, the reefs of Thailand and Indonesia are loaded with plastic. This is a reflection on the poor recycling infrastructure and close proximity of dumps to the ocean and waterways in those countries. See our recent post: Plastic Pollution in Paradise.
In contrast Australia with a more robust waste management infrastructure had the least amount of plastic on its reefs. However even there, plastic inflicts damage. With increased ocean temperatures over the last several years the coral reefs that are suffering from bleaching (that includes two/thirds of the Great Barrier Reef) are more susceptible to disease when also in touch with plastics. See the entire report on npr (National Public Radio).
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean.net
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