From: Duke University
Published October 24, 2017 04:17 PM

Taste, Not Appearance, Drives Corals to Eat Plastics

Scientists have long known that marine animals mistakenly eat plastic debris because the tiny bits of floating plastic might look like prey.

But a new Duke University study of plastic ingestion by corals suggests there may be an additional reason for the potentially harmful behavior. Visual cues, such as a resemblance to prey, don’t factor into the appeal, the researchers noted, because corals have no eyes.

The plastic just plain tastes good.

“Corals in our experiments ate all types of plastics but preferred unfouled microplastics by a threefold difference over microplastics covered in bacteria,” said Austin S. Allen, a PhD student at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. “This suggests the plastic itself contains something that makes it tasty.”

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Image: A white fleck of plastic is engulfed by a coral polyp. New research finds the non-nutritive food may simply 'taste good' to the corals. (Credit: Alex Seymour, Duke University)

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