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"Coral-Lation" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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An international research group has found that plastic trash -- ubiquitous throughout the world's oceans -- intensifies disease for coral, adding to reef peril. When plastic debris meets coral, the researchers say, the likelihood of disease increases from 4 to 89 percent -- a 20-fold change.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Keeping out the reef-raff.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files -- new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: undersea sounds) Coral reefs -- living building blocks for biodiversity in the Earth's oceans, have long been threatened by climate change and bleaching. A new study led by Cornell University underscores another scourge that's piling on to put coral in peril: (Sound effect: sound of discarded plastic bottle) plastic trash. Up to 12.7 million metric tons of the stuff are estimated to end up in our oceans every year.

(Sound effect: cartoon microbes party) The scientists say plastic debris acts like a marine motor home for microbes -- a perfect surface to foster bacterial pathogens and deliver them smack into coral. Increasing the likelihood of disease from four to 89 percent. Once coral dies, it doesn't come back.

(Sound effect: underwater sounds -- scuba) The findings are based on a survey of 159 coral reefs in Indonesia, Australia, Myanmar and Thailand. A direct visual evaluation of nearly 125,000 corals. While the number of plastic items varied by location, the researchers were able to establish a definite link between the presence of plastic items and increased coral disease.

The team hopes their work will help drive public policy toward curbing this human-caused menace and give these life-sustaining creatures a little "reef relief."

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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