Plastic Pollution Causing Gangrene-Like Disease on Coral Reefs

2 mins

Billions of pieces of plastic are infesting coral reefs ‘like gangrene’ according to a recent study. Nick Ames has more

Polluting plastic waste is causing diseases in coral reefs to soar according to new research.

Scientists examined 125,000 corals across the Asia-Pacific region, home to half the world’s reefs, and found 89 per cent of those fouled by plastic were infected. On plastic-free reefs, only four per cent of the corals were diseased.

In total corals in the region are contaminated with 11 billion pieces of plastic, the research indicated.

The conclusion reached was that sharp plastic fragments cut the coral organisms, while plastic fabrics smother them and block out light and oxygen.

‘Corals are animals just like me and you – they become wounded and then infected,’ said Joleah Lamb, of Cornell University in the US, who led the new research, which has been published in the Journal Science.

‘Plastics are ideal vessels for micro-organisms, with pits and pores, so it’s like cutting yourself with a really dirty knife.’

During her dives, Lamb found objects from plastic chairs to baby nappies to a branded quick-dry towel littering the coral reefs.

Lamb explained that once a coral is infected, disease usually spreads across the colony: ‘It’s like getting gangrene on your toe and watching it eat your body. There’s not much you can do to stop it. If a piece of plastic happens to entangle on a coral it has a pretty bad chance of survival.’

‘It’s like getting gangrene on your toe and watching it eat your body. There’s not much you can do to stop it. If a piece of plastic happens to entangle on a coral it has a pretty bad chance of survival.’

Coral reefs are home to huge numbers of spectacular marine creatures, and are also vital for at least 275 million people who rely on them for food, coastal protection from storms and income from tourism.

The international team examined corals spread across 159 reefs off the coasts of Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and Australia over a three year period.

They found plastic snared on a third of the individual specimens, with the problem much worse on Indonesian reefs than on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, where plastic waste is better managed.

The research scientists say it is ‘critical’ to cut plastic pollution to protect nature and livelihoods.

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