The contamination of microscopic plastic fragments can threaten the health of corals that inhabit the Great Barrier Reef, located in northeast Australia, a group of scientists warned today.
The increase in microplastic contamination in the Great barrier could affect corals because their small stomach cavities would fill with plastics that they cannot digestsaid Mia Hoogenboom, head of research at the Center of Excellence for Reef Studies at James Cook University.
Despite the proliferation of microplastics, little is known about the impact it has on marine ecosystems, especially on the health of marine organisms, according to a statement from James Cook University.
Therefore, the Australian researchers focused on analyzing whether the corals of the Great Barrier Reef consumed this waste and whether establishing plastic pollution affected the health of the Great Barrier Reef.
They ingest those microscopic particles
For the purposes of the study, the researchers placed the corals collected in the Great Barrier Reef in water contaminated with plastic, to verify two days after the marine organisms had consumed plastic fragments.
The James Cook study found that corals are not selective in their diet and are in danger of ingesting microscopic pieces of plastic such as polystyrene and polyethylene that were found in small numbers in the Great Barrier Reef.
The plastics were found inside coral polyps surrounded by digestive tissues and it is believed that this situation would prevent these organisms from being able to digest their food normally.
We have found that corals ingest plastics in rates slightly below normal marine plankton intake rates, said the author of this research, Nora Hall.
Corals obtain their energy from photosynthesis through the symbiotic algae that live in their tissues, but they also feed on a variety of foods such as zooplankton, the sediments of other microscopic organisms that live in the oceans, among others.Hall added.
The researchers' next step is to determine for sure the impact of plastics on coral physiology and health, as well as the impact of these pollutants on other marine organisms.
The Great Barrier Reef: coral, fish and mollusks
Formed tens of millions of years ago, when Australia separated from the supercontinent Gondwana and moved north, the Great Barrier Reef comprises 3,000 reefs and more than 1,000 islands, stretching 2,000 kilometers, and is home to 400 types of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 varieties of mollusks.
The Great Barrier Reef was declared by Unesco in 1981 World Heritage, but now this organization is evaluating whether it includes it in 2015 on the list of Heritage in Danger due to the impact of the development of the coastal zone on the ecosystem, the quality of the waters and the health of the corals.