Yes, you read that correctly. Corals these days have been known to ingest plastics, thanks to the widespread presence of plastic trash in the ocean. A new study by Duke University has uncovered the reason for this behaviour.
Marine animals like fish and turtles have been found to consume plastic trash in the oceans because of its resemblance to prey. Although corals have been found to ingest plastics as well, this reason would not apply to them as corals do not have eyes.
So why do corals eat plastic?
According to a new study by Duke University (published in a recent issue of the Marine Pollution Bulletin journal), the reason is simply that corals like the taste of plastics.
In a two-part study involving corals collected off the North Carolina coast, the corals preferred to consume plastics instead of clean sand, and that they preferred clean plastics as opposed to weathered microplastics fouled with a bacterial biofilm.
"Corals in our experiments ate all types of plastics but preferred unfouled microplastics by a threefold difference over microplastics covered in bacteria," said Austin S Allen, a PhD student at the university's Nicholas School of the Environment.
“This suggests the plastic itself contains something that makes it tasty,” he added.
As plastic materials contain hundreds of chemical additives, scientists need to investigate further to find out the specific additives in the plastics that corals find so tasty. At the same time, they would also want to determine whether other animals also find the same chemicals similarly tasty.
Commenting on the study, Seymour said, “Ultimately, the hope is that if we can manufacture plastic so it unintentionally tastes good to these animals, we might also be able to manufacture it so it intentionally tastes bad. That could significantly help reduce the threat these microplastics pose."