Plastic Trash Is Making Diseases Worse For Coral Reefs

Plastic Trash Is Making Diseases Worse For Coral ReefsA thick blanket of plastic debris covers the beach in Sulawesi, Indonesia, near where scientists conducted inspections of coral. (Credit: Joleah Lamb/Cornell)

Plastic trash—widespread throughout the world’s oceans—intensifies disease for coral and so puts reefs in peril, a new study suggests.

“Plastic debris acts like a marine motor home for microbes,” says the study’s lead author Joleah Lamb, a postdoctoral research fellow at Cornell University who began collecting this data as a doctoral candidate at James Cook University in Australia.

“Plastics make ideal vessels for colonizing microscopic organisms that could trigger disease if they come into contact with corals,” Lamb says. “Plastic items—commonly made of polypropylene, such as bottle caps and toothbrushes—have been shown to become heavily inhabited by bacteria. This is associated with the globally devastating group of coral diseases known as white syndromes.”

When plastic debris meets coral, the authors say, the likelihood of disease increases from 4 to 89 percent—a 20-fold change. The scientists estimate that about 11.1 billion plastic items are entangled on reefs across the Asia-Pacific region, and that this will likely increase 40 percent over the next seven years.

“It’s like getting gangrene on your foot and there is nothing you can do to stop it from affecting your whole body.”

Coral are tiny animals with living tissue that cling to and build upon one another to form “apartments,” or reefs. Bacterial pathogens ride aboard the plastics, disturbing delicate coral tissues and their microbiome.

“What’s troubling about coral disease is that once the coral tissue loss occurs, it’s not coming back,” says Lamb. “It’s like getting gangrene on your foot and there is nothing you can do to stop it from affecting your whole body.”

Lamb and colleagues surveyed 159 coral reefs from Indonesia, Australia, Myanmar, and Thailand, visually examining nearly 125,000 reef-building corals for tissue loss and disease lesions. The number of plastic items varied widely, from 0.4 items per 100 square meters (about the size of a two-bedroom Manhattan flat) in Australia, to 25.6 items per 100 square meters in Indonesia. This is significant given that 4.8 million to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste are estimated to enter the ocean in a single year, Lamb says.

The scientists forecast that by 2025, plastic going into the marine environment will increase to roughly 15.7 billion plastic items on coral reefs, which could lead to skeletal eroding band disease, white syndromes, and black band disease.

“Our work shows that plastic pollution is killing corals. Our goal is to focus less on measuring things dying and more on finding solutions,” says senior author Drew Harvell, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “While we can’t stop the huge impact of global warming on coral health in the short term, this new work should drive policy toward reducing plastic pollution.”

Plastic Trash Is Making Diseases Worse For Coral ReefsJoleah Lamb surveys the coral at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. (Credit: Yui Sato/Cornell)

Coral reefs are productive habitats in the middle of nutrient-poor waters, Harvell says. Thanks to the symbiotic relationship between corals and their solar-powered algae, “this miracle of construction creates the foundation for the greatest biodiversity in our oceans,” she says. “Corals are creating a habitat for other species, and reefs are critical to fisheries.”

“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,” says Lamb.

Additional coauthors of the paper are from the University of Washington; the University of Hawaii, Manoa; James Cook University; the Environmental Defense Fund; Prince of Songkla University; Thailand; the Nature Conservancy; and Hasanuddin University, Indonesia.

Funding for the research came from the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, the World Bank, the Australian Research Council, and Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

Source: Cornell University

Related Books

The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall

by Mark W. Moffett
0465055680If a chimpanzee ventures into the territory of a different group, it will almost certainly be killed. But a New Yorker can fly to Los Angeles--or Borneo--with very little fear. Psychologists have done little to explain this: for years, they have held that our biology puts a hard upper limit--about 150 people--on the size of our social groups. But human societies are in fact vastly larger. How do we manage--by and large--to get along with each other? In this paradigm-shattering book, biologist Mark W. Moffett draws on findings in psychology, sociology and anthropology to explain the social adaptations that bind societies. He explores how the tension between identity and anonymity defines how societies develop, function, and fail. Surpassing Guns, Germs, and Steel and Sapiens, The Human Swarm reveals how mankind created sprawling civilizations of unrivaled complexity--and what it will take to sustain them.   Available On Amazon

Environment: The Science Behind the Stories

by Jay H. Withgott, Matthew Laposata
0134204883Environment: The Science behind the Stories is a best seller for the introductory environmental science course known for its student-friendly narrative style, its integration of real stories and case studies, and its presentation of the latest science and research. The 6th Edition features new opportunities to help students see connections between integrated case studies and the science in each chapter, and provides them with opportunities to apply the scientific process to environmental concerns. Available On Amazon

Feasible Planet: A guide to more sustainable living

by Ken Kroes
0995847045Are you concerned about the state of our planet and hope that governments and corporations will find a sustainable way for us to live? If you do not think about it too hard, that may work, but will it? Left on their own, with drivers of popularity and profits, I am not too convinced that it will. The missing part of this equation is you and me. Individuals who believe that corporations and governments can do better. Individuals who believe that through action, we can buy a bit more time to develop and implement solutions to our critical issues. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

LATEST VIDEOS

What if Greenland Melted?
by Atlas Pro
Isostatic rebound isn't expected to be too great over Greenland, and instead is greatest over parts of Canada,…
Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?
by Real Engineering
Is terraforming the Sahara of the solutions to Stop Climate Change? We'll explore this idea in this video.
Allergens Are On The Rise In Canada's Urban Centres
by CBC News: The National
Canadians across the country say their allergies are getting worse.
Bill Nye And The Climate Crisis
by MSNBC
On a special show before a live studio audience, Bill Nye the science guy discusses the climate crisis with Chris Hayes.
How Greenland's Massive Ice Melt Will Totally Transform The World
by Channel 4 News
Remember that heatwave back in August? Well, the Arctic remembers it too. Record rates of ice melt have been recorded…
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
China Is Positioned To Lead On Climate Change As The US Rolls Back Its Policies
by Kelly Sims Gallagher and Fang Zhang
As the effects of climate change become more widespread and alarming, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has…
What Happens When The Permafrost Thaws?
by Official W5
Almost half of Canada sits on permanently frozen land called permafrost, but climate change is causing it to thaw and…
We Are Striking to Disrupt the System: An Hour with 16-Year-Old Climate Activist Greta Thunberg
by Democracy Now!
In her first extended broadcast interview in the United States, we spend the hour with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old…

LATEST ARTICLES

How People Can Best Make The Transition To Cool Future Cities
How People Can Best Make The Transition To Cool Future Cities
by Abby Mellick Lopes
It is difficult to remember when we are in the midst of winter, but keeping cool in summer is a big issue for some…
What if Greenland Melted?
by Atlas Pro
Isostatic rebound isn't expected to be too great over Greenland, and instead is greatest over parts of Canada,…
Clean, Green Machines: The Truth About Electric Vehicle Emissions
Clean, Green Machines: The Truth About Electric Vehicle Emissions
by Jake Whitehead
Despite the overwhelming evidence that electric vehicle technology can deliver significant economic, environmental and…
How To Build A City Fit For 50℃ Heatwaves
How To Build A City Fit For 50℃ Heatwaves
by Adrian Pitts
The Persian Gulf is already one of the hottest parts of the world, but by the end of the century increasing heat…
Can We Terraform the Sahara to Stop Climate Change?
by Real Engineering
Is terraforming the Sahara of the solutions to Stop Climate Change? We'll explore this idea in this video.
Hope And Mourning In The Anthropocene: Understanding Ecological Grief
Hope And Mourning In The Anthropocene: Understanding Ecological Grief
by Neville Ellis and Ashlee Cunsolo
We are living in a time of extraordinary ecological loss. Not only are human actions destabilising the very conditions…
Healthy, Happy And Tropical – World's Fastest-growing Cities Demand Our Attention
Healthy, Happy And Tropical – World's Fastest-growing Cities Demand Our Attention
by Karine Dupré, et al
What does it take to be a happy and healthy city? In any city, myriad factors go into the mix – and of course we are…
The Government Is Right To Fund Energy Storage: A 100% Renewable Grid Is Within Reach
The Government Is Right To Fund Energy Storage: A 100% Renewable Grid Is Within Reach
by Andrew Blakers, et al
In a speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared that the key requirements…