Coral reefs inundated with billions of pieces of plastic

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

26 de enero de 2018, 00:16Canberra, Jan 26 (Prensa Latina) Scientists from an global team warned in a study published today that the contact of corals with plastic waste increases the chances of these organisms contracting diseases.

"We estimate there are 11.1 billion plastic items on coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific and forecast this to increase by 40% within seven years". More than 275 million people rely on coral reefs for food, coastal protection, tourism income, and cultural value.

The findings, published in the journal Science, add to the burden of climate-related disease outbreaks that have already had an impact on coral reefs globally, James Cook University Emeritus Professor Bette Willis said.

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.

"They do not present clear evidence as to whether the pathogens were transferred by the plastic - but that is certainly a possibility", he said.

Plastic debris is littered on the beach in a village in Myanmar.

Dr. Lamb performing reef surveys on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia.

An estimated 80% of marine plastic debris originates from land. "But we really didn't have an idea about what's underneath the surface of the ocean".

Researchers surveyed 159 coral reefs in the Asia-Pacific region and found that billions of plastic items were entangled in the reefs. The scholar argued that this indicator is equivalent to 15.7 billion in all coral reefs of Asia Pacific by 2025.

This increase is set to happen much faster in developing countries than industrialised ones. Of the plastic-free reefs, which were few and far between, only 4 percent were infected with other diseases.

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Said Lamb: "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".

Plastic debris could also introduce pathogens directly.

While the link with disease is unknown, past studies have established that plastics provide flawless havens for microbe colonies.

While the researchers didn't check to see whether the sick corals recovered, Lamb thinks it's unlikely.

Structurally complex corals are eight times more likely to be affected by plastic, particularly branching and tabular species.

It's no secret that the world's coral reefs are in bad shape.

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.

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

Logos from manufacturing giants, like Nike, can be found along the bottom of the ocean.

Joleah Lamb is a research fellow at Cornell University.

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