Plastic from fishing kills coral reefs

Scientists have made a surprising discovery about the plastic in the ocean’s coral reefs. The majority of plastic comes from fishing operations, not land-based plastics. Although the researchers found much consumer debris, such as water bottles and food wrappers, which are often the main source of plastic pollution in other ecosystems, nearly three-quarters of all plastic items documented on the surveyed reefs were related to fishing like ropes, nets, and fishing lines.  

“Fishing gear, which even as debris continues to catch marine life through what we call ghost fishing, appears to contribute a large proportion of the plastic seen on mesophotic reefs,” says co-author Lucy Woodall, Ph.D., principal scientist and professor in marine conservation biology and policy at University of Exeter. “Unfortunately, fishing gear debris is often not reduced by general waste management interventions; therefore specific solutions related to the needs of fishers should be considered.” Of course, the best intervention for the reefs is to stop fishing.

Coral reefs are vital to the ocean’s ecology. Because of the diversity of life found in the habitats created by corals, reefs are often called the “rainforests of the sea.” About 25% of the ocean’s fish depend on healthy coral reefs. Fishes and other organisms shelter, find food, reproduce, and rear their young in the many nooks and crannies formed by corals.

The answer to the problem of plastic pollution in coral reefs is to stop fishing. Learn more about the damage caused by fish consumption, and the risk to dolphins and other sea mammals.