Plastic pollution is making corals sick

Where there’s plastic, disease outbreaks are more likely

We know plastic trash in the oceans kills birds, turtles, and whales, but now, scientists have found it’s making corals sick, too. In reefs in Asia and Australia, corals tangled in plastic are about 90 percent more likely to get a disease, according to new research. And that can cause corals, which are already stressed by warming ocean waters, to die.

Around the world, coral reefs provide food, tourism income, and protection from storms for more than 275 million people, including in the US. Coral reefs in Hawaii are valued at more than $33 billion for the US economy. But corals around the world are bleaching more frequently because of warmer oceans, losing their colorful algae that provide about 90 percent of their energy. Today’s study shows that corals are threatened not just by climate change, but also by plastic pollution.

Every year, millions of metric tons of plastic trash enter the oceans from land, which ends up virtually everywhere: remote islands, down onto the seafloor, and even frozen in Arctic ice. Scientists are just starting to understand how all this plastic affects marine life. Large animals like whales and sharks are known to die tangled up in fishing nets, but until today, it wasn’t clear whether plastic could affect disease outbreaks in the ocean.

Corals — which are animals, not plants — can get sick, just like us. Coral reefs are already suffering because of global warming. Given the increasing rates of bleaching, keeping the reefs trash-free is necessary to keep them alive.


About Joslyne Thaggard

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