Plastic in the Oceans Increasing Risk of Disease in Coral Reefs

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As their names imply, those diseases are kind of like flesh-eating disease and typically deadly.

"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", Lamb said.

This bleached states can last for up to six weeks, and while corals can recover if the temperature drops and the algae return, severely bleached corals die, and become covered by algae.

"The likelihood of disease increases from 4 percent to 89 percent when corals are in contact with plastic", researchers report in the journal Science. Corals not in with garbage had just a four per cent chance of being diseased.

Finally, plastic debris overtopping corals can block out light and create low-oxygen conditions that favour the growth of microorganisms linked to black band disease. Though the study looked at more than a hundred reefs located throughout Asia-Pacific, the same effects may exist on reefs located elsewhere in the world.

Australian reefs had the least amount of plastic observed on reefs, while other surveyed reefs in the Pacific area had much more plastic in and around them - probably because Australia is much stricter about what gets dumped in the ocean.

That was a pretty nice gig in places like Australia's Great Barrier reef that were relatively pristine except for the occasional snagged fishing line, recalled Lisa Kelly, a Canadian from Chapeau, Que.

Corals have a symbiotic relationship with a tiny marine algae called "zooxanthellae" that live inside and nourish them. In Australia there were 0.4 items per 100 square meters, while in Indonesia the figure rose to as high as 25.6 pieces per 100 square meters.

"We estimate that 11.1 billion plastic items are entangled on coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific and project this number to increase 40 percent by 2025", the study continued. Scientists have found that plastic waste is a big contributor too.

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However, he noted that while plastic could present an extra challenge and may be linked with an increase in disease risk, this study does not show that plastics are carrying pathogens into the reefs.

For the study, an global team of scientists examined more than 150 reefs in the Asia-Pacific region between 2011 and 2014, finding plastic on a third of them.

Plastic debris is littered on the beach in a village in Myanmar.

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. "The bleached coral is stressed". Reefs are also buffers that protect coasts from storm surge during events such as hurricanes.

"We know that plastics are widespread in the ocean, and it's no surprise to me that corals are encountering them", said Professor Richard Thompson, a marine biologist at the University of Plymouth who was not involved in the study.

It prompted her to take steps like replacing the plastic bags that line the wastebaskets at home with bags made of potato starch.

"It's really sad", she said.

Kelly said she no longer uses plastic straws and shopping bags.

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