Coral reefs are already in bad shape due to several reasons. A new study reveals that there's another threat to these marine habitats.
Climate change has resulted in mass scale coral bleaching, overfishing has shaken the balance of ecosystems that lead to healthy reefs, and toxic waste from human industry is destroying the sea and ocean rainforests.
A new research paper suggests that coral reefs have another problem - plastics.
Researchers studied over 124,000 corals spread across 159 reefs in Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Myanmar. The study published in the journal Science reveals that the team observed plastic was everywhere.
“We came across chairs, chip wrappers, Q-tips, garbage bags, water bottles, old nappies,” said study author Joleah Lamb, a Cornell University marine disease ecologist. “Everything you see on the beach is probably lying on the reef.”
The Presence Of Plastics Increase Risk Factor Of Corals Getting Disease
The researchers inferred that a minimum of 11 billion plastic waste products are harming corals in the Asia-Pacific region, and by 2025, this number is expected to increase by 40 percent. This prevalence of plastic pollution is disastrous for reefs all over the planet. The possibility of disease in coral reef increases from four to 89 percent when they come in contact with plastic.
Further research is required to find why plastics are making corals more prone to various diseases. Based on their initial findings, plastic debris cuts the skins of the coral reefs, exposing them to pathogens. Corals require light and water flow for oxygen, and plastics cut off both of these, thereby endangering the existence of these habitats.
“Corals are animals just like me and you – they become wounded and then infected,” Lamb added. “Plastics are ideal vessels for microorganisms, with pits and pores, so it’s like cutting yourself with a really dirty knife.”
The scientists noticed that plastic debris distribution in the ocean differs depending on the location. The highest concentration of plastics was detected in the reefs near Indonesia while Australian reefs had the lowest. The reason for this could be Australia's efficient waste removal system.
The Importance Of Coral Health
The preservation of coral reef health is of utmost importance for several reasons. Many marine creatures live inside the reefs. Corals support more species for every unit area than any other underwater environment. Reefs protect coastlines during tropical storms and waves. Every year, these reefs support fishing industries globally and serve as a tourist attraction.