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Plastic in the Oceans Increasing Risk of Disease in Coral Reefs

27 January 2018

In a paper released in the journal Science on Thursday, they estimate that reefs across the Asia-Pacific region are littered with more than 11 billion pieces of plastic larger than 5 centimeters.

26 de enero de 2018, 00:16Canberra, Jan 26 (Prensa Latina) Scientists from an worldwide team warned in a study published today that the contact of corals with plastic waste increases the chances of these organisms contracting diseases. The presence of plastics seemed especially to aggravate some common coral afflictions, such as skeletal eroding band disease.

"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", Dr Lamb said.

"Plastic debris acts like a marine motor home for microbes", said the study's lead author, Joleah Lamb, a postdoctoral research fellow at Cornell.

More than 11 billion plastics are now putting coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific at risk of becoming diseased and destroying the habitat of millions of fish species, the research 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.

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".

The study, which was led by Joleah Lamb of Cornell University, is the culmination of years of surveying dozens and dozens of coral reefs.

Throughout the course of their research, scientists involved in the new study noticed that the plastics problem was not evenly distributed.

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White syndrome is spread by bacteria, and causes parts of corals to die leaving a white band of dead tissue.

It is vital to preserve the health of coral reefs for a number of reasons.

"What's troubling about coral disease is that once the coral tissue loss occurs, it's not coming back", said Dr Lamb.

"Plastic items - commonly made of polypropylene, such as bottle caps and toothbrushes - have been shown to become heavily inhabited by bacteria". "It's like getting gangrene on your foot and there is nothing you can do to stop it from affecting your whole body".

Now marine scientists have discovered that it's killing coral reefs. Plastic can also shade coral so that it doesn't get enough sun, and can block the flow of water across the reef.

She said very few studies have examined the role plastics could play in promoting disease in the marine environment.

Exactly how the plastic is causing disease is still unclear.

Disease outbreaks among corals are putting at risk the survival of one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, but also the human activities revolving around it.

Plastic in the Oceans Increasing Risk of Disease in Coral Reefs