By Jair Martinez
In the depths of the world’s oceans, marine life is consuming plastic at an alarming rate, and although the impact is not as visible, even coral is submitting to this lethal trend. According to this recent study by The Ocean Cleanup, scientists think they have found the root of this issue, and it isn’t what you might think.
From the depths of African deserts to the trenches of the seas, the world is comprised of diverse ecosystems that make up life on planet Earth today. Although life is fascinating, it also grows increasingly fragile as human ignorance towards nature is putting many life forms at risk.
As land is cleared through industrialization in the form of factories pumping pollutants into both the air and sea, the diversity of our world is under threat. In fact, it’s estimated that 2,000 species go extinct each year and among the most threatened ecosystems of all are the ones that exist in the oceans.
The future of coral reefs in particular, looks very bleak. Coral reefs make up 25% of all marine life as there are thousands of different species of fish, crustacea, bacteria and more that live in reefs around the world.
However, these ecosystems are dying at an alarming rate. According to a 2011 report by the World Resources Institute, as many as 75% of the ocean’s coral reefs are currently endangered—a figure that’s expected to rise to 100% by 2050.
Sadly, scientists have recently begun to speculate that plastic is the main culprit for the irreparable damage to the coral reefs brought upon by overfishing, tourism, development and climate change. Researchers concluded that coral polyps, the organisms that form coral reefs, were consuming small pieces of plastic in alarming amounts, which get stuck in the organisms’ stomachs—a process that could prove to be a death sentence. Like humans, fragile corals need nutrients from food as well as sunlight in order to survive, and if they continue to consume plastics, they could find themselves facing starvation.
For anyone who has ever picked up litter on the beach, it is clear how widespread the problem is. In fact, it’s estimated that the plastic being dumped in our oceans equates to some eight million tons every year. It seems that society is less aware of the damage our wastefulness is causing beneath the waves. Hopefully, this study will show people just how far-reaching the problem of pollution can be.