Search - JEvents
Search - Categories
Search - Contacts
Search - Content
Search - News Feeds
Search - Web Links
Search - SunBay
Search - JComments
Sunday, 18 March 2018 08:01

New Research Study; Plastic Trash Killing Coral Reefs Featured

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

While locally we worry about water quality, and complain about Red Tide and brownish water, the picture globally is much worse. Coral Reefs are dying across the world! The problem: Plastic Trash!

A new study shows that billions of pieces of plastic pollution are snagged on coral reefs, sending disease rates soaring.

Scientists examined 124,000 corals from 159 reefs located across the Asia Pacific region. The study, conducted between 2011 and 2014, determined that pieces of plastic cut corals, deprive them of light and oxygen, and provide a means for pathogens to invade the organisms, and found 89% of those fouled by plastic were suffering disease. On plastic-free reefs, only 4% of the corals were diseased thus, coral reefs that are clogged with plastic are 20 times more likely to be diseased than those corals that are free from immediate plastic pollution.

The work is highly significant because it is the first to examine the impact of plastic on disease in any marine organism and also the first to produce a large-scale estimate of how much plastic pollutes the sea floor. Coral reefs in the region are contaminated with 11billion pieces of plastic, the research indicates.

Over 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in the ocean every year and it now the polution has reached even the remotest corners. Microplastics, formed when plastics are broken up, can be mistaken for food by sea creatures and early studies have shown this causes harm. Tamara Galloway, Professor of Ecotoxicology, from Plymouth University, in a separate study has highlighted the need to reduce the amount of plastic waste and therefore microplastics entering our seas.

She said: "Plastics are enormously beneficial materials. However, if marine plastic pollution continues to increase, impacts such as those demonstrated in our laboratory studies could occur in the natural environment. It is therefore important that we prevent the accumulation of plastic and microplastic debris in marine habitats through better waste-handling practices and smarter choices in the materials we use.”

The scientists who conducted the new study did not set out to research plastic but were confronted by it across the regions they surveyed. The correlation between plastic pollution and high rates of disease was very striking and the researchers believe plastic fragments cut the coral organisms, while plastic fabrics smother them and block out light and oxygen.

“Corals are animals just like me and you – they become wounded and then infected,” said Joleah Lamb, at Cornell University, who led the new research, published in the journal Science. “Plastics are ideal vessels for micro-organisms, with pits and pores, so it’s like cutting yourself with a really dirty knife.”

plastic on shore
She said that once a coral is infected, disease usually spreads across the colony: “It’s like getting gangrene on your toe and watching it eat your body. There’s not much you can do to stop it. If a piece of plastic happens to entangle on a coral it has a pretty bad chance of survival.”

“The take-home message for individuals is to be more considered about the amount of single-use plastics you are using and think about where your plastic goes, these little things do matter.” Lamb told The Guardian.

Coral reefs are not only a wonder of the natural world, home to myriad spectacular creatures, but they are also vital for at least 275 million people who rely on them for food, coastal protection from storms and income from tourism. The scientists said it is “critical” to cut plastic pollution.

Prof Terry Hughes, at James Cook University in Australia and not part of the study team, said: “I’d never thought of bits of plastic as a vector of disease spread from the slime that coats them, but the study shows convincingly that corals entangled in plastic are 20 times more likely to be infected.”

Prof Terry Hughes, at James Cook University in Australia and not part of the study team, said: “I’d never thought of bits of plastic as a vector of disease spread from the slime that coats them, but the study shows convincingly that corals entangled in plastic are 20 times more likely to be infected.”

Prof Alasdair Edwards, at Newcastle University, UK, and also not involved in the new study, said the combined impact of plastic-related disease and climate change could be very serious: “Warming oceans are still the major threat to corals, but this paper shows that in areas more affected by humans, as exemplified by plastic debris, the chance of corals recovering from mass-bleaching and mortality events may be severely compromised. Corals need all the help they can get.”

Lamb said the one hopeful aspect of the plastic pollution problem was that people can take direct action: “The take-home message for individuals is to be more considered about the amount of single-use plastics you are using and think about where your plastic goes. These little things do matter.”

plastic reef
The researchers also estimated that the plastic pollution tarnishing coral reefs in Asia-Pacific will soar by 40% by 2025 to 16bn pieces, unless action is taken. The true number is likely to be higher, as China and Singapore were not included in the analysis.

Read 775 times

Add comment


Security code
Refresh

250x250

digital version