Plastic Oceans Increasingly Risk of Diseases
New research shows that the increasing plastic waste in Oceans is a real threat for the health of the animals and plants like corals.
The risk of infection and disease outbreaks by as much 89 percent.
The study, which looked at 124,000 reef-building corals from 159 reefs, estimates that the number of plastic pieces caught in Asia-Pacific coral could increase by 40 percent by 2025, further increasing the risk of disease.
Corals’ economic benefits to fisheries, tourism and coastal protection amount to $375 billion in the United States alone, the study noted.
“We don’t know the exact mechanisms, but plastics make ideal vessels for colonizing microscopic organisms that could trigger disease if they come into contact with corals,” Joleah Lamb, a marine biologist at the ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Australia and lead author of the study, said in a statement.
“For example, plastic items such as those commonly made of polypropylene, like bottle caps and toothbrushes, have been shown to become heavily inhabited by bacteria that are associated with a globally devastating group of coral diseases known as white syndromes.”
Acids from human-emitted carbon dioxide that the ocean absorbs is also breaking down coral. Even ravenous, predatory sea stars, also known as starfish, prey on them.
The growing presence of plastic in the world’s oceans could make the problems exponentially worse. A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum projected that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by midcentury. About a third of all plastics produced — estimated at 8 million metric tons per year — slips past waste-collection systems and ends up in the sea and often in the stomachs of birds that mistake it for food.
In the new study, researchers from Cornell University, the University of Washington, the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, James Cook University in Queensland, Australia, and science institutes in Indonesia and Thailand found plastic on a third of the coral reefs they surveyed.
Link to Science publication here
“The presence of plastic was associated with a 20-fold increased risk of disease in general, particularly skeletal eroding band disease, white syndromes and black band disease,” the researchers said.
- Reefs near Indonesia had the highest concentration of plastic trash
- Australian reefs the lowest
It appeared to be no coincidence that Australia has a superior waste removal system.
“I kind of think of plastic as a triple whammy for coral,” said Drew Harvell, a professor of marine ecology at Cornell and one of the study’s 11 authors. “First it cuts open the skin of the coral, and then it can convey pathogenic microorganisms, and finally it can shade the light coral needs and cut off water flow.”
Dr Joleah Lamb
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies/ Cornell University
Emeritus Professor Bette Willis
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies/ James Cook University
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