Australia: Plastic-eating coral on Great Barrier Reef raises fears

Australia: Plastic-eating coral on Great Barrier Reef raises fears

Corals in the Great Barrier Reef are eating small plastic debris in the ocean, raising fears about the impact the indigestible fragments have on the health of the corals and other marine life.

Scientists found that when they placed corals from the reef into plastic-contaminated water, the marine life “ate plastic at rates only slightly lower than their normal rate of feeding on marine plankton,” according to a study published in the journal Marine Biology.

“If microplastic pollution increases on the Great Barrier Reef, corals could be negatively affected as their tiny stomach cavities become full of indigestible plastic,” said Mia Hoogenboom of Queensland state’s James Cook University. Microplastic is defined as particles smaller than half a centimeter.

Scientists also sampled waters near inshore coral reefs in the World Heritage-listed site and found microplastics, including polystyrene and polyethylene.

The reef’s health is already under close scrutiny from the United Nations. Climate change, poor water quality from land-based runoffs, coastal developments and fishing all threaten the biodiverse site.

As much as 88 percent of the open ocean’s surface contains plastic debris, scientists have found. The small pieces — from mass-produced plastics such as toys, bags, food containers and utensils — make their way into the sea through stormwater water runoff, raising concerns about the effect on marine life and the food chain.  Agence France-Presse