Prince Charles highlighted the work of two Cornell researchers at his Feb. 14 address to the International Sustainability Unit, an initiative established to “resolve some of the key environmental challenges facing the world”.
The study cited was conducted by postdoctoral research fellow Joleah B. Lamb and Prof. Drew Harvell, ecology and evolutionary biology and was published in Science magazine in January.
The Prince of Wales focused his speech at the ISU on problems facing the ocean as a result of human interference and summarized the Cornell researchers’ results at London’s Fishmonger’s Hall.
“We now understand that the scourge of plastic in the ocean is causing the rapid increase of lethal coral diseases,” he said at the meeting.
During their research in the Asia-Pacific region, Lamb and Harvell found that the likelihood of coral reef disease increases from 4 to 89 percent when it comes in contact with plastic. When Lamb saw that her research was referenced in the speech, she was excited about the impact it could have.
“I may have cried a little about the impact this could make on policy and change for coral reefs,” Lamb told the University.
In the early stages of their research, Lamb suggested including plastics, based on her observations on plastics harming corals in Australia, to Harvell, who was leading coral health surveys in Indonesia. What they found was that plastic is a “triple threat” when it comes to lethal coral disease because it can abrade and tear open the skin of the coral, convey pathogens from the dirt on it and can shade and reduce coral energy.
Harvell was “surprised and pleased,” at the interest in their study. She hopes for policy change because they found less damage from plastic in Australia than in Indonesia because of the stronger waste management policies in place.
“We hope to see strong waste management policies enacted around the world to help health of our oceans,” she said. “Coral reefs are under enormous pressure for climate change which is a ‘wicked problem’ to solve internationally.”