How does ocean plastic affect coral reefs?

Plastic waste can carry pathogens and hard waste can damage corals and cause infections. And if plastic waste blocks sunlight, it could cause low-oxygen conditions that promote the growth of disease-causing bacteria. Coral reefs around the world are threatened by natural and human-made stressors, such as dredging, climate change and plastic pollution. At the EPA Coral Research Center, an indoor humid laboratory in Gulf Breeze, Florida, scientists are studying how stressors such as sedimentation, ocean acidification and microplastics are affecting coral health.

Lead author Drew Harvell, from Cornell University, says that plastic could harm corals in at least two ways. First, bacteria and other harmful microorganisms abound in water and corals; when coral erodes, this can cause pathogens to enter the coral. Everyone has the option to reject single-use plastics, reduce their use, reuse plastic items as much as possible and recycle them. Not only must people reduce their use of plastic and make a greater effort to recycle, but laws must also be enacted to limit the industrial use of harmful chemical additives in plastic products.

One was contaminated with high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is commonly found in plastic shopping bags, while the other was mixed with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is found in a variety of plastic materials. Although the study did not confirm that plastic was the cause of any of the diseases found, it is believed that plastic can transmit pathogens and act as a vector for diseases to thrive. What is clear from numerous studies is that the amount of plastic that reaches the oceans is increasing. Based on the amount of plastic that researchers found while diving, they estimate that more than 11 billion plastic objects could be trapped in coral reefs in the Asia-Pacific region, where more than half of the world's coral reefs are found.

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