Connor Philip Zink1,2 and Robin Tyler Smith1, (1)Science Under Sail Institute for Exploration, FL, United States, (2)Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, FL, United States
Since the early 1970's, researchers began identifying plastics and other sources of litter as harmful to ecosystems. In recent years, there's been a growing concern about microscopic plastic debris (microplastics) and its impact on marine organisms. Likewise, microplastics are currently and continuously being documented from environmental samples on a global scale. The ecosystems most likely affected by their presence are shallow marine habitats, such as near-shore coral reefs. One concern is that microplastics may be ingested by reef-building corals and negatively impact their physiology. In this study, two species of Caribbean reef-building corals, Orbicella faveolata and Porites porites were investigated for rates of ingesting microplastics. Coral samples were incubated with ~100μm micro-beads manufactured with a fluorescent label to aid in recovery and quantification from the coral tissue. Following the consumption of plastic, we measured instantaneous rates of calcification as a proxy for physiological performance compared to controls. Our results indicate that corals ingest microplastic particles and maintain them internally for at least 24 hours. Our initial findings suggest that the ingestion of ≥ 3 microplastic particles cm-2 may negatively impact rates of coral calcification. In light of these preliminary findings, further investigations should examine the long-term effect of environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastics on reef corals and its potential detriment to reef building capacity.