Published: Sat, January 27, 2018
Science | By Eileen Rhodes

Oceanic plastic trash conveys disease to coral reefs

Oceanic plastic trash conveys disease to coral reefs

The researchers estimate based on current trends there will be more than 15 billion items of plastic on coral reefs by 2020.

Oceanic plastic pollution is helping to spread colonising microbes to coral reefs, greatly increasing the risk of a group of coral diseases known as white syndromes, according to a new study. These reefs provide the USA around $375 billion in goods and services through fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection, and when you consider that 80 percent of this debris originates on land, curbing the problem is very much in our power.

"We examined more than 120,000 corals, both plastic-free and with plastic present, on 159 reefs from Indonesia, Australia, Myanmar and Thailand", said Joleah Lamb, from the Cornell University in the US. And according to the the team at Cornell University in the US, over a third of the 159 coral reefs they surveyed was contaminated with plastic. But where she and her study co-authors found plastic, corals were likely to be sick 89 percent of the time. As scraps lodge in the reef amid the corals, they often scratch their surface, which creates fertile breeding ground for pathogens, much like a cut on the human body can lead to infection.

Plastic waste is among them, and it's been found to have a disproportionate impact on corals' health, by spreading pathogens that cause lethal disease outbreaks.

Further investigations are needed to determine precisely how and why plastics make coral susceptible to different diseases.

"So the plastic sitting on top of the coral can cause these micro-climates that are really wonderful for these types of bacteria to proliferate".

More news: US Diplomat Resigns From Suu Kyi Panel On Rakhine Crisis

"What's troubling is that once the coral tissue loss occurs, it's not coming back..."

However, the fact that so many big pieces of plastic were found around corals might also have an upside: it allows scientists to identify the sources of that plastic, and perhaps start tackling the pollution problem there.

Study leader Drew Harvell at Cornell University says the plastic could be harming coral in at least two ways. Secondly, plastic also blocks sunlight from reaching the corals, which can also pose a long-term threat.

Coral reefs are already being assailed by catastrophic "bleaching" events along with over-fishing and attacks by ravenous starfish but now man-made plastics are being highlighted as threat because they can introduce disease into the delicate eco-systems.

In this context, cutting down on plastic waste is crucial to give reefs a helping hand in their battle with climate change. 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.

Governments and corporations could also ban plastic bags and similar items or force people to buy them, she added.

Like this: