Plastic harming reefs
It is well established that coral reefs are being destroyed by rising temperatures, acidic waters, and overfishing. Now new research suggests these vital marine ecosystems face another dire threat: plastic dumped in the ocean. Marine biologists examined more than 124,000 corals from 159 reefs in Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia. Based on their findings, they estimate there are at least 11 billion pieces of plastic caught in these important habitats. They also found that this plastic pollution raises corals’ risk for infection from 4 to 89 percent. The debris blocks out light and oxygen, which stresses corals, and cuts from plastic shards make them more vulnerable to disease-causing germs. “Corals are animals just like me and you—they become wounded and then infected,” Cornell University’s Joleah Lamb tells The Guardian (U.K.). “Plastics are ideal vessels for microorganisms, with pits and pores, so it’s like cutting yourself with a really dirty knife.” Coral reefs house about 25 percent of marine life and serve as a buffer that protects coastal regions from storms and floods. The researchers expect plastic pollution across the Asia-Pacific region to surge 40 percent by 2025.