Coral Reefs and Plastic: A Deadly Combination

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is a destination, one of the most beautiful places on earth. But the Great Barrier Reef, like many coral reefs around the world, is being overwhelmed by micro plastics, and the effect is devastating.
According to Australia’s Brisbane Times, “coral, turtles and sea birds that ingested micro plastics suffered blockages to their digestive tracts and had their feeding patterns affected,” a recent James Cook University study concluded.
It turns out that corals are what are known as “non-selective eaters”, ingesting anything that comes their way.
"Coral tends to feed on a variety of different food particles such as plankton and sediment," Chief Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, Mia Hoogenboom, told the Times.
"They take whatever particles are available to them and can take plastics and mistake them for their normal food."
According to the researchers, a variety of micro plastics were found in the coral reefs, including small amounts of polystyrene and polyethylene. These can come from larger plastic products breaking down in the oceans and plastic microbeads found in body care products. What’s particularly harmful, beside the chemicals in the plastic itself, is that the tiny plastic particles can soak up pollution including oil and heavy metals, which are quite toxic once ingested.
Lead author of the study, James Cook University master's graduate Nora Hall, told the Brisbane Times that the corals are eating quite a bit of plastic, “We found that the corals ate plastic at rates only slightly lower than their normal rate of feeding on marine plankton."
Along with other threats to coral reefs including rising ocean temperatures, there’s no telling how dangerous a plastic diet is going to be for these ocean creatures. But one thing’s for sure: it can’t be a good thing.
Keep plastic out of the ocean by recycling, reducing your use of plastic products and cutting microbeads out of your skin care regimens.

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