It turns out that corals prefer to eat microplastics – tiny pieces of plastic pollution barely visible to the naked eye – rather than their natural food!
A study in 2017, trying to understand why and how microplastics are getting in the marine food chain, found that when coral were offered plastic, sand and bacteria-covered plastic + sand they actually preferred the naked-plastic. They even retained the plastic for longer compared to the other food.
They suspect that some types of plastic contain chemicals which stimulate the corals – which are tiny animals related to jellyfish – to feed. Or in other words, plastic is tasty for corals.
This could be because the hydrocarbons in oil that make up plastic mimic biological chemicals – we must remember all oil, & therefore plastic, originally was animals and plants aka fossil fuel. Finding out that corals find plastic tasty may seem rather abstract, but it helps scientists build up a better picture of how plastic is spreading through the marine environment – as corals are eaten by many other animals.
Find out what microplastics are here. Find out how the majority of microplastics get into the ocean here. And finally find out how pollution builds up in the food chain here.