Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Aerial view of plastic floating over corals

Plastic debris can devastate coral reefs. Credit: Kathryn Berry

Ecology

Plastic trash is sickening the world’s coral reefs

Exposure to plastic junk makes fragile reefs highly susceptible to disease.

Plastic waste in the ocean makes reef-building corals highly vulnerable to several potentially fatal diseases.

Joleah Lamb at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and her colleagues surveyed 159 reefs in the Asia-Pacific region for signs of disease and plastic pollution, and discovered a dramatic correlation: the likelihood of disease on a coral free of plastic waste was only 4%, but jumped to 89% on a coral blighted by plastic.

The debris might act as a vector for white syndrome, which destroys coral tissue, because the bacteria that trigger outbreaks of the disease are good at colonizing plastic. The low-light, low-oxygen conditions created when plastics settle on coral are also hospitable to the microbes that cause black-band disease, another often-lethal condition.

Plastic seems to be particularly destructive to branching and structurally complex species of coral, which provide crucial habitats for fisheries in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the authors.

More Research Highlights...

Auroras on Jupiter

Jupiter’s aurora glows blue in this composite image. A newly detected radio signal might be the signature of a similar aurora on a planet in another solar system. Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Nichols, Univ. Leicester

Astronomy and astrophysics

Wiggly signal hints of an aurora on a planet far from the Solar System

A vast radio observatory on Earth detects signals similar to those generated by the aurora on Jupiter.
Members of the "Ice Memory project" extract an ice core piece out of a drill machine

Scientists extract an ice core from the Col du Dome glacier near the top of Mont Blanc in the French Alps. A similar core documents changes in emissions of an ozone-depleting gas. Credit: Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty

Atmospheric science

Ice on the Alps’s highest peak details a pollutant’s rise

A glacier on Mont Blanc provides a decades-long record of the use of bromine, which corrodes the ozone layer.
Jumping ant guarding pupae and larvae at the nest

The brain of an Indian jumping worker ant (above, guarding pupae and larvae) becomes smaller if she starts to lay eggs but can regrow to its old size if she stops reproducing. Credit: Martin Dohrn/Nature Picture Library

Neuroscience

Ants shrink their brains for motherhood — but can enlarge them when egg-laying ends

Brain volume plummets in ‘gamergate’ ants that gain the ability to reproduce, but rises again with a fall in fertility.
A health worker puts on his personal protective equipment

A health worker in the Democratic Republic of the Congo prepares to care for people infected with Ebola virus during the 2018–20 outbreak, which prompted an extensive genomic analysis. Credit: John Wessels/AFP/Getty

Genomics

An unprecedented genomic analysis helped to curb an Ebola outbreak

Despite extraordinary challenges, scientists managed to sequence a high percentage of Ebola virus genomes from a deadly wave of infections.
Ember and thick smoke from bushfires reach Braemar Bay in New South Wales

Vast bush fires that swept across Australia at the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 filled the skies with enough smoke to warm a portion of the atmosphere. Credit: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty

Atmospheric science

Smoke from Australian fires turned up the heat in the southern sky

The catastrophic wildfires of late 2019 and early 2020 triggered a lingering temperature rise in a section of Earth’s lower atmosphere.
Visible and infrared images of the device in fully discharged and charged states

A display screen in its uncharged (top left) and charged (top right) state in visible light. The screen reflects one range of infrared wavelengths when uncharged (bottom left) and another range when charged (bottom right). Credit: M. S. Ergoktas et al./Nature Photon.

Optics and photonics

One screen, three images — some invisible in ordinary light

A graphene-based device can display several images simultaneously using a range of wavelengths.
Woman harvesting teff, Ethiopia

A farmer in Ethiopia harvests teff, a cereal. Small farms tend to have more-diverse landscapes than do sprawling industrial operations. Credit: Andia/Universal Images Group/Getty

Environmental sciences

Small farms outdo big ones on biodiversity — and crop yields

Large-scale farms account for most of the global food supply, but smallholdings protect species and are just as profitable.
Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing

Search

Quick links