Oceanic plastic trash conveys disease to coral reefs

27 January, 2018, 20:26 | Author: Jacqueline Daniels
  • A Nike logo is clearly visible on an item lodged into a coral reef

They found that when plastic was in contact with coral, the chance that it also showed signs of disease increased by a factor of more than 20 compared to coral that was plastic-free. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) - a very common plastic used in children's toys, building materials like pipes, and many other products - have been found carrying a family of bacteria called Rhodobacterales, which are associated with a suite of coral diseases.

"Plastics make ideal vessels for colonizing microscopic organisms that could trigger disease if they come into contact with corals", Lamb said.

"Our work shows that plastic pollution is killing corals". A 2017 study found that 83% of tap water samples taken around the world contained plastic pollutants.

The scientists estimated that about 11.1 billion plastic items are entangled on reefs throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and without action this could increase to over 15 billion by 2025.

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The study, which was led by Joleah Lamb of Cornell University, is the culmination of years of surveying dozens and dozens of coral reefs.

Trash may damage the tiny coral animals that build reefs, making them more vulnerable to illness. Thanks to the symbiotic relationship between corals and their solar-powered algae, "this miracle of construction creates the foundation for the greatest biodiversity in our oceans", she said. Previous research has indicated that this may be because plastic debris can cause stress to coral by depriving it of light and oxygen, while providing a gateway for pathogens. And their survey did not include China, one of the biggest sources of plastic pollution.

"What's troubling is that once the coral tissue loss occurs, it's not coming back..." "It's like getting gangrene on your foot and there is nothing you can do to stop it from affecting your whole body".

Coral reefs are under assault by a growing threat: tons of floating plastic dumped into oceans by humans.

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This bleached states can last for up to six weeks, and while corals can recover if the temperature drops and the algae return, severely bleached corals die, and become covered by algae.

How can plastic waste cause disease? This has potentially dire implications for the numerous marine species that shelter under or within these corals, and in turn the fisheries that depend on them.

Matthew Savoca, a marine scientist at the the University of California, Davis, who studies the effects of plastic in the ocean, suggests that ocean waters with lots of plastic waste might also carry other pollutants that could also be contributing to higher rates of coral disease.

It was funded by The Nature Conservancy, the Australia Institute of Marine Science, the U.S. National Research Council, the Global Environment Facility, the World Bank, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Australian Research Council, the Environmental Defense Fund and Cornell University.

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