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Marine Biology

, Volume 162, Issue 3, pp 725-732

First online:

Microplastic ingestion by scleractinian corals

  • N. M. HallAffiliated withCollege of Marine and Environmental Science, James Cook University Email author 
  • , K. L. E. BerryAffiliated withCollege of Marine and Environmental Science, James Cook UniversityCatchment to Reef Research Group, Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER), James Cook University
  • , L. RintoulAffiliated withSchool of Chemistry, Physics and Mechanical Engineering, Queensland University of Technology
  • , M. O. HoogenboomAffiliated withCollege of Marine and Environmental Science, James Cook UniversityARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

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We report for the first time the ingestion of microplastics by scleractinian corals, and the presence of microplastics in coral reef waters adjacent to inshore reefs on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GRE, 18°31′S 146°23′E). Analysis of samples from sub-surface plankton tows conducted in close proximity to inshore reefs on the central GBR revealed microplastics, similar to those used in marine paints and fishing floats, were present in low concentrations at all water sampling locations. Experimental feeding trials revealed that corals mistake microplastics for prey and can consume up to ~50 μg plastic cm−2 h−1, rates similar to their consumption of plankton and Artemia nauplii in experimental feeding assays. Ingested microplastics were found wrapped in mesenterial tissue within the coral gut cavity, suggesting that ingestion of high concentrations of microplastic debris could potentially impair the health of corals.