Plastic Pollution Is Killing Coral Reefs on an Unprecedented Scale Worldwide

A scuba diver checking coral reefs in the Red Sea off the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat

According to the study, when such debris comes into contact with corals, the likelihood of disease increases from 4 to 89 percent. The presence of plastics seemed especially to aggravate some common coral afflictions, such as skeletal eroding band disease.

"Laboratory studies have shown that plastic encounters can cause really subtle, chronic effects and harm, compromising the ability of organisms to grow in the normal way for example", he said.

More than 11 billion plastics are now putting coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific at risk of becoming diseased and destroying the habitat of millions of fish species, the research said.

"This study demonstrates that reductions in the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean will have direct benefits to coral reefs by reducing disease-associated mortality", Lamb said.

Trash may damage the tiny coral animals that build reefs, making them more vulnerable to illness.

Climate change isn't the only culprit responsible for damaging the oceans' corals.

At one point, the researchers realized they were inadvertently contributing to the problem -- the garbage they carefully collected in waste containers aboard the boat they lived in during the survey was being dumped overboard each morning by the local crew.

"What's troubling is that once the coral tissue loss occurs, it's not coming back..."

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"It's like getting gangrene on your foot and there is nothing you can do to stop it from affecting your whole body", she said. New research data on 159 reefs throughout Asia and Australia reveals that manmade plastics are suffocating reefs on an unprecedented scale, sparking fears that mankind's inability to clean up after itself is destroying vital ocean habitats faster than they could possibly recover.

"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.

Co-author Douglas Rader of the US Environmental Defense Fund said better management of fisheries was the best way to strengthen coral reefs to enable them to fend off man-made threats such as more plastics.

Now marine scientists have discovered that it's killing coral reefs.

Based on other studies, the researchers think there are a couple of ways the plastic could be causing disease.

"Any compromise like that is going to make creatures more susceptible to the risks of other diseases".

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.

It was funded by The Nature Conservancy, the Australia Institute of Marine Science, the U.S. National Research Council, the Global Environment Facility, the World Bank, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Australian Research Council, the Environmental Defense Fund and Cornell University.

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