Nevin Manimala Statistics

Do coral reefs act as sinks for microplastics?

Environ Pollut. 2023 Sep 8:122509. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2023.122509. Online ahead of print.


Microplastic (MP) pollution has been detected in coral reefs, raising concerns regarding its global impact. Although they cover a small portion (<1%) of the total area of the world’s oceans, coral reefs are geological and biological structures that trap MPs and disproportionately enhance their accumulation. In this review, we attempted to understand how coral reefs act as short- and long-term sinks for MPs. We describe five characteristics that lead to the enrichment of microplastics in coral reefs: 1) adhesion on reef-building corals at distinct depths; 2) ingestion by reef organisms (i.e., suspension feeders, such as sponges, ascidians, and corals), bioconcentration, and formation of short-term (i.e., years to decades) biological sinks for MPs; 3) formation of long-term (i.e., centuries) MP sinks in coral skeletons and unconsolidated subsurface sediments; 4) reduction of sediment resuspension and seafloor turbulent kinetic energy by complex marine forest architecture that reduces bottom shear stress, facilitates the retention, and deposition of small (<0.5 mm) and high-density floating MPs; and 5) diagenesis of Anthropocene sedimentary rocks containing MPs. We estimate that reef processes may remove more than 10% of floating MPs in shallow tropical waters yearly. Statistical results show that microplastic abundance for reef-building corals are higher than values found in reef sediments and especially in seawater. Moreover, pellets, films, foams and mainly fragments and fibers have been found. These field-based data support our hypothesis of sinks in the reef sediments and organisms. We highlight the role of these seascapes in the interception of MPs as traps and sinks in reef sediments, biota, and carbonate frameworks. As coral reefs are prone to MP accumulation and can become pollution hotspots, global initiatives are necessary to conserve these rich ecosystems and prevent rapidly increasing plastic pollution.

PMID:37690465 | DOI:10.1016/j.envpol.2023.122509

By Nevin Manimala

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