ENVT 200 03

Plastics Part in Coral Destruction

The New York Times published an article entitled “Billions of Plastic Pieces Litter Coral in Asia and Australia” on January 25, 2018. This story summarizes a survey recently published in the Science journal. This study, conducted by Dr. Lamb, coral biologist and professor at Cornell University, put together a database of plastic pollution on 159 reefs, over 12,000 square meters, in Australia, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Thailand. It estimated that reefs in this region are littered with 11.1 billion pieces of plastic, all larger than 5 centimeters. If all of those pieces were lined up they would wrap around the world 14 times. The corals which were covered with plastics were found to be 20 times more likely to be diseased than those that were not. About 90% of the time that a plastic was covered with coral, it had signs of disease. When plastic is in the ocean, it attracts all kinds of bacteria, including those which cause different coral diseases. These bacteria also weigh down the plastic and make it more likely to fall down, wound a coral, and block its source of light, making it even more susceptible to disease. However, the article ends on a hopeful note; it notes that countries which take precautions against plastic entering the ocean, like Australia, see much lower levels of pollution in their reefs. The author conveys an important message: that in order to protect reefs from climate change, plastic pollution must be addressed.

As saddening as I found this article to be, I cannot say that I was surprised by this study. Plastic pollution is one of the issues of which I am most passionate about. Every day, I am amazed at the amount of disposable material mass-produced in plastics. My eyes were opened to this issue while I was interning at the Halsey Institute and they presented the Sea Change exhibition. I helped install the work of Aurora Robson, an installation artist who works exclusively in plastics interrupted from the waste stream. Her wisdom and message concerning plastic pollution and the effects it is having on our oceans completely changed the way in which I interact with the material. I quickly noticed the sheer amount of plastic in my life alone and the possible effects it could have on faraway ecosystems. So it does not come as a shock to me that coral reef deterioration could be in partial, a result of plastics.

As far as the reliability of this article, I have found it to be a trustworthy source. This New York Times article cites the same study as BBC; I have also managed to find the original source on Science. However, I do think that it could be improved by adding links to this study and explaining the stated evidence further. With that said, the bulk of the article was giving factual details of the summary so I felt that it was very unbiased. Its tone did not indicate any employment of scare tactics or propaganda meant to manipulate the reader. I do not believe it to have any agenda apart from educating people on new scientific findings.

link to article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/science/plastic-coral-reefs.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Ftrilobites

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2 thoughts on “Plastics Part in Coral Destruction

  1. knoxm

    I felt the same way when I saw the Sea Change exhibition. I would not be surprised either if the coral destruction was due to plastic waste and this blog post was really interesting to me. Plastic is terrible for the health of humans, animals, and our environment.

  2. prof.saunders

    Excellent blog post! I love how you connected the article to your experience interning and how you actually took the time to look up the original source. What ways do you think are most helpful in addressing the issue of plastic pollution?

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