Plastic bags, often carelessly discarded into the ocean, are turning into silent killers of the vibrant coral reefs. To make existing legislation and incentives effective, the dynamics of plastic bags’ impact on marine life, particularly sessile corals, needed to be understood and addressed.
This motivated Janice Taga to begin her quest with a Master’s thesis titled “Macroplastic Impact on Coral Health and Photosynthetic Activity of the Symbiotic Zooxanthellae in Corals” – investigating the effects of plastic bag entanglement on sessile branching coral colonies.
This was made possible through the University of the South Pacific component of the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) Programme funded by the European Union and the Government of Sweden.
Janice’s research was conducted in Fiji on two different sites – a remote location (Leleuvia Island Resort) and a heavily populated site (the Suva Harbour). Her research unveiled two key impacts of plastics on corals – physical harm and impairment of corals’ photosynthetic activities.
Plastic entanglement is detrimental to coral reefs because it interferes with the vital process of photosynthesis, a fundamental process of coral reef ecosystems. Direct contact with plastics obscured light energy, increased abrasion activities, and induced outbreaks of diseases, affecting coral reef ecosystems’ productivity.
This interference can lead to reduced growth, increased vulnerability to stressors, and overall harm to coral health. To protect coral reefs and their ecosystems, it is crucial to reduce plastic pollution in the oceans and promote responsible waste disposal and recycling practices.
In terms of site variability, Ms Taga’s research showed that regardless of different water qualities, plastic bag contact still negatively inhibits photosynthetic activity and impedes coral reef health. The rate of impairment, however was quicker with the heavily populated site.
Janice’s findings are a wake-up call for Pacific communities and regions. Her research provides crucial baseline data on macroplastic pollution’s impact on corals in Fiji. With plastic pollution prevalent in coastal marine environments, corals were at risk.
As Janice concluded her research, she knew her quest against plastic pollution had just begun. She hopes these findings could strengthen initiatives to phase out plastic pollution, aligning with Sustainable Development Goal 14.1. Moreover, her work would be a reference for future coral reef plastic pollution studies, guiding efforts to preserve these magnificent underwater ecosystems.
Janice believes that managing plastic bag use and disposal strategies are crucial steps to protect reef corals The findings of her study ought to encourage every one of us to change our ways and be more careful with our rubbish.