Distribution and biological implications of plastic pollution on the fringing reef of Mo'orea, French Polynesia

Elizabeth J Connors
PeerJ 2017, 5: e3733
Coral reef ecosystems of the South Pacific are extremely vulnerable to plastic pollution from oceanic gyres and land-based sources. To describe the extent and impact of plastic pollution, the distribution of both macro- (>5 mm) and microplastic (plastic < 5 mm) of the fringing reef of an isolated South Pacific island, Mo'orea, French Polynesia was quantified. Macroplastic was found on every beach on the island that was surveyed. The distribution of this plastic was categorized by site type and by the presence of Turbinaria ornata, a common macroalgae on Mo'orea. Microplastics were discovered in the water column of the fringing reef of the island, at a concentration of 0.74 pieces m(-2). Additionally, this study reports for the first time the ingestion of microplastic by the corallimorpha Discosoma nummiforme. Microplastics were made available to corallimorph polyps in a laboratory setting over the course of 108 h. Positively and negatively buoyant microplastics were ingested, and a microplastic particle that was not experimentally introduced was also discovered in the stomach cavity of one organism. This study indicates that plastic pollution has the potential to negatively impact coral reef ecosystems of the South Pacific, and warrants further study to explore the broader potential impacts of plastic pollution on coral reef ecosystems.

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