An Ocean of Plastic Is Choking the World's Most Precious Coral Reefs

Ocean plastic waste is making coral reefs vulnerable to disease

Coral reefs inundated with billions of pieces of plastic

Plastic can also shade coral so that it doesn't get enough sun, and can block the flow of water across the reef.

Lamb said the good news in light of the findings published in Science is plastic pollution is something that can be more easily dealt with in the short term than numerous other problems, by helping countries in Southeast Asia reduce the amount of plastic garbage going into the ocean.

With warmer waters causing already so much damage in the form of coral bleaching, plastic may very well be the last nail in the coffin for coral reefs.

"We estimate that 11.1 billion plastic items are entangled on coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific and project this number to increase 40 percent by 2025", the study continued.

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.

As scientists from the United States, Australia, Thailand, Myanmar, Canada and Indonesia surveyed 159 reefs over a three-year period they were left shocked by the way plastic was polluting even the most remote areas.

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

At least 275 million people worldwide live near reefs, which provide food, coastal protection and income from tourism.

It is though that the increasein disease could be due to plastic items blocking light and oxygen from reaching the corals, which require both to survive.

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The new discovery comes at a time of increased awareness of plastic pollution.

Bette Willis, of James Cook University, said plastic pollution would add to the stresses already being felt by coral reefs across the world as global warming causes them to bleach in increasing numbers.

Now marine scientists have discovered that it's killing coral reefs. This could spell disaster for the world's reefs; the team found that when corals come into contact with plastics, the likelihood of the corals developing a disease jumps from four to 89 percent.

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.

One coral blight that does appear to be exacerbated by plastic is skeletal eroding band disease. Kelly says after seeing the findings of the study she co-authored, she no longer uses plastic straws and shopping bags.

Journal Reference: Joleah B. Lamb et al.

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

"We know that plastics are widespread in the ocean, and it's no surprise to me that corals are encountering them", said Professor Richard Thompson, a marine biologist at the University of Plymouth who was not involved in the study.

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