Plastic pollution in the oceans consumed by corals

Posted Mar 2, 2015 by Tim Sandle
Scientists studying Australia’s Great Barrier Reef have discovered that coral will eat microplastic pollution. Microplastics are the remains of plastic pollution discarded into the oceans.
Very young coral-feeding juvenile crown-of-thorns starfish with full set of arms and madreporites.
Very young coral-feeding juvenile crown-of-thorns starfish with full set of arms and madreporites.
As Digital Journal has previously reported, many parts of the world’s oceans are replete with plastic junk — the waste products of modern life. Plastic is now the main form of ocean debris, causing serious concerns about its impact on the health of ocean communities.
Corals are not especially fussy about what they consume, and they will take in plastic found in seawater. Researchers are concerned that as the rate of microplastic appears to be increasing, then the effect on corals will be detrimental. Corals have very small stomach cavities and if the plastic waste fills up these cavities then the corals will not be able to take in sufficient nutrients.
Coral reefs are one of the treasures of the world and the Great Barrier Reef is the most magnificent. To sustain this wonder, a complex ecosystem has formed with the shallow waters. Corals are very delicate and they have certain requirements in order to reproduce.
This warning was signalled after researchers collected various coral parts from across the Great Barrier Reef. The research suggests that at least every two days corals take in plastic particles. Plastic was found inside the coral polyp bound up with digestive tissue. The primary plastic pollutants were particles of polystyrene and polyethylene.
Typically corals derive energy through the algae that grow on them (the algae draw their energy through photosynthesis.) However, corals also feed on microscopic organisms within the water, such as zooplankton.
The research was conducted by marine biologists based at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University. The findings have been published in the journal Marine Biology in a paper titled “Microplastic ingestion by scleractinian corals.”