Plastic trash—the new threat for coral reefs worldwide

phys.org | 3/8/2018 | Staff
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Coral reefs are not getting a break. On top of climate change and bleaching, now tonnes of plastic trash are making them sick.

Every year, as much as 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the ocean. But so far, little is known about how this waste is affecting the health of marine organisms.

Study - Answer - Reefs - Waste

Recently, an international study has an answer, and it is bad—coral reefs are getting sick from this plastic waste.

The study focused on the Asia-Pacific region, where more than half of the world's corals reside, including our own Great Barrier Reef.

Study - Reefs - Region - Indonesia - Australia

The study analysed more than 150 reefs across the Asia-Pacific region, including Indonesia, Australia, Myanmar and Thailand. Based on the researchers' estimates, more than 11.1 billion plastic items are currently entangled on coral reefs.

This figure could increase by 40% by 2025 if things don't change.

Problem - Waste - Microbes - Microbes - Chance

The problem with this plastic waste is that it attracts unwanted microbes. These microbes greatly increase the chance corals will develop diseases.

Coral reefs are formed by tiny animals that live in association with microscopic algae called zooxanthellae. These delicate relationships can be affected by different factors. Both increasing ocean temperatures and pollution are known culprits.

Bacteria - Plastic - Waste - Relationship

But it turns out that the bacteria found in plastic waste also disturbs this delicate relationship.

After analysing nearly 125,000 reef-building corals for tissue loss and disease lesions, the team had a good idea of the problem.

Study - Region - Researchers - Presence - Debris

Across the study region, researchers found that the presence of plastic debris increased the odds of corals getting sick—by a lot.

Coral reefs from places contaminated with plastic had an 89% chance of developing a disease. In plastic-free regions, these odds were just 4%!

Debris - Acts - Motorhome

"Plastic debris acts like a marine motorhome for...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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