Billions of Pieces of Plastic Spread Disease in Coral Reefs

Dr. Lamb performing reef surveys on the Great Barrier Reef Australia

Coral reefs are under threat from billions of pieces of plastic.

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". Every year, millions of tons of waste end up in the oceans, where they remain indefinitely. As a marine disease ecologist, her current research focuses on identifying and assessing natural buffers for mitigating infectious diseases that threaten coral reefs and human livelihoods in developing coastal regions.

With coral reefs already under pressure from climate change and mass bleaching events, our findings reveal another significant threat to the world's corals and the ecosystems and livelihoods they support. These reefs provide the US around $375 billion in goods and services through fisheries, tourism, and coastal protection, and when you consider that 80 percent of this debris originates on land, curbing the problem is very much in our power.

They are vital to fisheries and coastal management and are now at risk due to global warming, which boosts diseases and can cause coral to bleach and die.

Lamb, whose team's paper appears in the journal Science, added: "You could be diving and you think someone's tapping your shoulder but it's just a bottle knocking against you, or a plastic trash bag stuck on your tank It's really said". "Massive amounts of plastic are being thrown into the oceans from land", Harvell says, in countries that don't have much recycling and with dumps that are often adjacent to the ocean or waterways that run into the ocean. To make matters worse, corals with plastic on them were 20 times more likely to be diseased than those that were not polluted.

But Lamb found a different environment in Southeast Asia, home to some of the world's most diverse and lovely coral reefs. Bacterial pathogens ride aboard the plastics, disturbing delicate coral tissues and their microbiome.

While the link with disease is unknown, past studies have established that plastics provide flawless havens for microbe colonies.

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"Those pathogens eat the tissue", said Joleah Lamb, a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University and lead author of.

"We examined more than 120,000 corals, both plastic-free and with plastic present, on 159 reefs from Indonesia, Australia, Myanmar and Thailand. That equates to an estimated 15.7 billion plastic items on coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific by 2025", she said.

How can plastic waste cause disease?

Joleah Lamb is a research fellow at Cornell University.

One coral blight that does appear to be exacerbated by plastic is skeletal eroding band disease.

Matthew Savoca, a marine scientist at the the University of California, Davis, who studies the effects of plastic in the ocean, suggests that ocean waters with lots of plastic waste might also carry other pollutants that could also be contributing to higher rates of coral disease.

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