A study in the Pacific Ocean finds that bags and bottles are sickening and killing reefs from Thailand to Australia. Coral reefs already are susceptible to disease due to unusually warm water.
Millions of tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean every year. And the trash stays there: Whether it's grocery bags or water bottles or kids' toys, plastic is practically indestructible.
Now marine scientists have discovered that it's killing coral reefs.
A new study based on four years of diving on 159 reefs in the Pacific shows that reefs in four countries — Australia, Thailand, Indonesia and Myanmar — are heavily contaminated with plastic. It clings to the coral, especially branching coral. And where it clings, it sickens or kills.
"The likelihood of disease increases from 4 percent to 89 percent when corals are in contact with plastic," researchers report in the journal Science.
Senior author Drew Harvell at Cornell University says the plastic could be harming coral in at least two ways. First, bacteria and other harmful microorganisms are abundant in the water and on corals; when the coral is abraded, that might invite pathogens into the coral.