Tiny pieces of plastic cause 'gangrene' on coral reefs

Ocean plastic waste is making coral reefs vulnerable to disease

"You could be diving and you think someone's tapping your shoulder but it's just a bottle knocking against you, or a plastic trash bag stuck on your tank", lead author Joleah Lamb of Cornell University told Reuters. 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. What's more, we forecast that this will increase 40% in the next seven years - equating to an estimated 15.7 billion plastic items by 2025.

Plastic debris can open wounds in coral tissues, potentially letting in pathogens such as Halofolliculina corallasia, the microbe that causes skeletal eroding band disease. Researchers noted that Australia had the least amount of plastic of the surveyed regions, while Indonesia had the greatest amount.

Researchers looked at the Asia-Pacific region, where most global coral reefs are located, and estimated that about 11.1 billion plastic items are now entangled in the region's reefs.

"M$3 oderating disease outbreak risks in the ocean will be vital for improving both human and ecosystem health", the study concludes. 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. "Massive amounts of plastic are being thrown into the oceans from land", Harvell says, in countries that don't have much recycling and with dumps that are often adjacent to the ocean or waterways that run into the ocean. Coral reefs are responsible for yearly $375 billion in goods and services related to fishing, tourism, and coastal protection.

Garbage like disposable diapers, plastic bags and snack wrappers is getting into the ocean and snagging on coral reefs, leading to deadly infections that literally eat the corals alive, a new study suggests.

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The researchers, from James Cook University in Australia, found plastic on one-third of the reefs they surveyed in the region. In December (2017), nearly 200 nations agreed to limit plastic pollution of the oceans, warning that it could outweigh all fish by 2030.

Corals have a symbiotic relationship with a tiny marine algae called "zooxanthellae" that live inside and nourish them. Starting in 2011, Lamb and her team studied roughly 12,000 square meters of reef, much of which was off the coast of Asia, and were able to determine that the level of plastic waste in a reef is a key factor in how healthy the reef itself is.

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.

Journal Reference: Joleah B. Lamb et al. It gets caught on reef branches, cutting corals and opening abrasions that expose them to disease.

However, he noted that while plastic could present an extra challenge and may be linked with an increase in disease risk, this study does not show that plastics are carrying pathogens into the reefs.

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