Plastic trash linked to disease in corals

27 January, 2018, 20:22 | Author: Grady King
  • A Nike logo is clearly visible on an item lodged into a coral reef

They found that one-third of them were contaminated with plastic - sometimes large patches of plastic garbage were visible. This is significant given that 4.8 million to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste are estimated to enter the ocean in a single year, Lamb said.

The finding has raised concerns that the presence of so much plastic could considerably increase the risk of coral disease by blocking out light and depriving them of oxygen. "Plastic debris can cause physical injury and abrasion to coral tissues by facilitating invasion of pathogens or by exhausting resources for immune system function during wound-healing processes", the authors of the study write. It gets caught on reef branches, cutting corals and opening abrasions that expose them to disease.

The team estimates that at least 11 billion plastic items are ensnared in coral reefs in the Asia-Pacific-and they believe that number will increase by 40 percent by 2025. The researchers assembled a database of plastic pollution on 159 reefs in Australia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand, surveying about 12,000 square meters of reef.

While it might not be immediately clear how this pollution epidemic affects us here on land, our economy relies on those reefs considerably.

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Dr. Lamb's previous research revealed the impacts of marine-based industries on the development of diseases that devastate reef-building corals - including dredging for coastal development and natural resource extraction, mass tourism, and fishing.

They are vital to fisheries and coastal management and are now at risk due to global warming, which boosts diseases and can cause coral to bleach and die.

An worldwide research group led by Cornell University has found that plastic trash - ubiquitous throughout the world's oceans - intensifies disease for coral, adding to reef peril, according to a new study in the journal Science, Jan. 26. In December (2017), nearly 200 nations agreed to limit plastic pollution of the oceans, warning that it could outweigh all fish by 2030.

"It's certainly well known that plastics abrade corals, create new openings", she says. The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, said the likelihood of disease skyrockets from 4 percent to almost 90 percent when coral comes in contact with plastic. Every now and then she'd note a scrap of plastic as she swam through. For example, the United Kingdom recently implemented its first "Seabin" to extract oil, plastic, and other debris from Portsmouth harbor, while the city of Rotterdam has been using an aquatic drone known as the "waste shark".

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But Lamb found a different environment in Southeast Asia, home to some of the world's most diverse and handsome coral reefs.

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.

Joleah Lamb is a research fellow at Cornell University.

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