Corals Love Plastics

Samantha Zeitz

Scientist already knew that animals were eating plastic because it looks appealing but a Duke University study suggests it might also be because it tastes good too.

Researchers concluded that because corals don’t have eyes, there must be another reason behind their love of eating plastic and now a study conducted at Duke University seems to have discovered that reason. When tested with different plastics the corals seemed to enjoy unfouled microplastics three times as much as they did the microplastic that were covered in bacteria.

Alexander C. Seymour is a geographic information systems analyst at Duke’s Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Center. Seymour says there is hundreds of different chemicals found on plastic that could be contributing to the flavour the corals seem to like so much. Currently, it’s unknown which additive is making the plastic tasty but researchers are working to track it down. Once it’s discovered why the plastic tastes good, the next step is to find a way to make it purposely taste bad to try and stop the ingestion of plastic.

The micro plastics ingested by corals are smaller than five millimeters in diameter and have been appearing in oceans for over 40 years. They are now found almost anywhere in the marine environment. Because plastics are mainly indigestible, species that consume them can experience blockages, having a false sense of fullness and even a reduced energy reserve.

It’s important to find ways to protect these corals because they play such a big part in marine life. Corals are responsible for protecting coastlines from large waves and even tropical storms. Although they are living themselves, they also provide homes and shelters for a large variety of marine organisms and provide a source of nitrogen and other essential nutrient that help marine food chains. They can also help recycle nutrients.