Research published today in the journal “Science” indicates that contact with plastic can make corals more than 20 times more susceptible to disease, and that there are more than 11 billion pieces of plastic debris on coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific. The study examined more than 124,000 reef-building corals and found that 89% of corals with trapped plastic had visual signs of disease – a marked increase from the 4% chance of a coral having disease without plastic.
In 2016 AIMS published “Identification, impacts, and prioritisation of emerging contaminants present in the GBR and Torres Strait marine environments” which suggested that marine plastic pollution was the number one emerging threat to certain marine ecosystems along the Great Barrier Reef.
With the current investment in the health of the GBR announced over the last week, which did not include any funding or focus on marine debris and plastic pollution, we would like to highlight the importance of acknowledging the significant threat that marine debris, and in particular plastic pollution, poses to building the long term resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.
Tangaroa Blue Foundation, through the Australian Marine Debris Initiative, has extensive data indicating the significant loads of marine debris and plastic pollution along the GBR. In some areas more than 1 tonne of marine debris has been removed per kilometre of coastline annually, with more than 90% of the load being plastic. This load can more than double after significant weather events such as cyclones.
With the coral reefs of the GBR already under pressure from climate change, mass bleaching events, crown of thorns and nutrient run-off, plastic marine debris is another significant threat to the GBR’s corals and the ecosystems and livelihoods they support, and needs to be specifically included in GBR management policy and investment.