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Study finds stony corals eat plastic!

By Leonard Ho - Posted Feb 09, 2015 09:00 AM
A recent study discovered that scleractinian (SPS/LPS) corals ingest microplastics at the same rate they consume plankton. Corals may be confusing plastic for food. The study concludes that microplastic may potentially impair a coral's health. If true, this could have big implications for reefkeepers.
Study finds stony corals eat plastic!

Stylophora sp.

According to the research paper published February 4, 2015 in Marine Biology:

Experimental feeding trials revealed that corals mistake microplastics for prey and can consume up to ~50 μg plastic cm−2 h−1, rates similar to their consumption of plankton and Artemia nauplii in experimental feeding assays. Ingested microplastics were found wrapped in mesenterial tissue within the coral gut cavity, suggesting that ingestion of high concentrations of microplastic debris could potentially impair the health of corals.

Scientists are not clear yet about the long term effect of microplastic ingestion.  Corals have evolved to deal with natural participates like detritus and even metals (to an extent), but are corals able to process or expel plastic from their guts?  That's the $64,000 question.

We are learning that corals are voracious eaters.  Advanced Aquarist has published many articles about coral nutrition in the last couple of years, including:

With all the plastic we use in reef aquariums - especially plastic that is exposed to regular friction forces such as in circulation devices and magnet cleaners - we have to wonder how much plastic our corals are ingesting.  Could the bioaccumulation of microplastics help explain mysterious husbandry issues such as "old tank syndrome?"  Or are corals able to cope with artificial, non-degradable particulates?

We thank Dr. Tim Wijgerde for bringing this research to our attention.

Reference: N. M. Hall, K. L. E. Berry, L. Rintoul, M. O. Hoogenboom (2015).  Microplastic ingestion by scleractinian corals.

Author: Leonard Ho
Location: Southern California

I'm a passionate aquarist of over 30 years, a coral reef lover, and the blog editor for Advanced Aquarist. While aquarium gadgets interest me, it's really livestock (especially fish), artistry of aquariums, and "method behind the madness" processes that captivate my attention.


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