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11 Billion Pieces of Plastic Are Smothering Reefs, Infecting Corals

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January 25, 2018 Cornell University read full ScienceDaily article here

For coral reefs, the threat of climate change and bleaching are bad enough. An international research group has now found that plastic trash — ubiquitous throughout the world’s oceans — intensifies disease for coral, adding to reef peril.

Plastic pollution carries diseases to coral reefs. Credit: © whitcomberd / Fotolia

“Plastic debris acts like a marine motorhome for microbes,” said the study’s lead author, Joleah Lamb, a postdoctoral research fellow at Cornell. She 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 said. “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.

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…..

Joleah B. Lamb, Bette L. Willis, Evan A. Fiorenza, Courtney S. Couch, Robert Howard, Douglas N. Rader, James D. True, Lisa A. Kelly, Awaludinnoer Ahmad, Jamaluddin Jompa, C. Drew Harvell. Plastic waste associated with disease on coral reefs. Science, 2018 DOI: 10.1126/science.aar3320

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Related story from News Deeply:

11 Billion Pieces of Plastic Are Smothering Reefs, Infecting Corals

Scientists surveyed nearly 125,000 coral reefs in the Asia-Pacific region, finding that 11.1 billion pieces of plastic debris are entangled in corals and are drastically increasing the likelihood that they will contract deadly diseases.

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