As if coral reefs didn’t have enough to contend with, as bleaching ravages the vital ocean environments – a new study shows that billions of pieces of discarded plastic are spreading disease across the world’s reefs. Plastic tumbling along in the ocean causes small cuts in the corals, which exposes them to diseases, increasing the likelihood that they will get sick from 4% to an astonishing 90%.

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A recent study took a look at 100,000 reefs in the Asia-Pacific oceans and found that 11 billion pieces of plastic were choking the fragile reefs. And that number is expected to rise 40% within the next 7 years. Small cuts and abrasions caused by this plastic allow pathogens to enter the coral and sicken it. “The presence of plastic was associated with a 20-fold increased risk of disease in general, particularly skeletal eroding band disease, white syndromes and black band disease,” the study said. Plastic can also shade coral so that it doesn’t get enough sun, and can block the flow of water across the reef.

Related: Over 200 nations commit to ending ocean plastic waste

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“We estimate that 11.1 billion plastic items are entangled on coral reefs across the Asia-Pacific and project this number to increase 40 percent by 2025,” the study continued. “Plastic waste management is critical for reducing diseases that threaten ecosystem health and human livelihoods.” Indonesia was found to be the worst offender, with the coral in Australia suffering the least – possibly due to Australia’s intense clean-up and disposal efforts.

Via The Washington Post

Images via Deposit Photos and Journal Science