Ocean, Plastic

Hungry Corals

A recent study published in the journal Marine Biology has revealed that fish and turtles aren’t the only ones dining on plastic soup. Turns out Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is also at the table.

The report titled Microplastic Ingestion by Scleractinian Corals highlighted the fact that corals are non-selective feeders and consume microplastics when the plastics are present in seawater. “Corals get energy from photosynthesis by symbiotic algae living within their tissues, but they also feed on a variety of other food including zooplankton, sediment and other microscopic organisms that live in seawater,” said lead author Nora Hall.

As part of the study the researchers put corals collected from the Great Barrier Reef into plastic contaminated water. After two nights they found that the corals had eaten plastic particles.

Researchers found that the corals ate plastic at rates only slightly lower than their normal rate of feeding on marine plankton. The plastic was found deep inside the coral polyp wrapped in digestive tissue, raising concerns that it might impede the corals ability to digest its normal food. If microplastic pollution increases on the Great Barrier Reef, corals could be negatively affected as their tiny stomach-cavities become full of indigestible plastic.

The study team is now investigating whether plastic consumption by fish living on coral reefs influences their growth and survival.

Full Study – Microplastic ingestion by scleractinian corals by N.M. Hall, K.L.E. Berry, L. Rintoul, M.O. Hoogenboom is published in the journal Marine Biology. DOI 10.1007/s00227-015-2619-7

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