Coral reefs are one of the ecosystems most susceptible to climate change, but their complex structure is also vulnerable to many other threats, most of these are sadly caused by humans.
It’s apparent that our plastic usage is affecting the life of coral reefs. Recent scientific research estimates 11 billion pieces of plastic contaminate our vital reefs! Plastic waste that is caught on coral reefs has shown to contribute to increased rates of disease within the coral, as stated by the study.
Plastic items such as bottle caps and toothbrushes which are commonly made of polypropylene, have been shown to become heavily inhabited by bacteria. For the research, the research group studied 159 coral reefs at the Asia-Pacific region where most global reefs are located. They inspected roughly 125,000 corals checking for tissue loss and lesions. The greater the amount of plastic that was entangled in the region’s reefs, the more disease they discovered.
Microorganisms often come with plastic, and the plastic adds stress to the corals as they cover daylight and reduce oxygen supply making conditions that enable certain pathogens (microorganisms that cause disease) to flourish. Such plastic waste can even cut open corals’ sensitive skin, exposing them to further infection.
In recent studies, research on cross-species coral hybrids, inoculations with protective bacteria and even genetic engineering has been established. Researchers produce coral embryos by in vitro fertilisation (IVF), coral tissues of the infected ones are compared and its DNA can be preserved in a cold storage equipment. An increased focus on coral microbiology and application of laboratory culture techniques could serve as the string of hope and provide a lifeline for the ‘Rainforests of the Oceans’.
It’s time for a sea change
Everyone can help tackle the problem by reducing plastic usage. Science proves that small behavioural changes and collective efforts can lead to wide-scale transformations.