"Joleah Lamb began her career as a coral biologist on the Great Barrier Reef. Every now and then she’d note a scrap of plastic as she swam through. But when she started studying reefs in Asia, she came across a completely different level of detritus.
“I don’t even know how to record this!” she remembers thinking. “It’s a chair! Where do I put ‘chair’? Or diaper? Or bottle?”
Over the years, Dr. Lamb, who is now a professor at Cornell, and her collaborators assembled a formidable database of plastic pollution on 159 reefs in Australia, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand. In a paper released in the journal Science on Thursday, they estimate that reefs across the Asia-Pacific region are littered with more than 11 billion pieces of plastic larger than 5 centimeters. If those pieces were lined up next to each other, they would reach around the Earth nearly 14 times, at the very least. To make matters worse, corals with plastic on them were 20 times more likely to be diseased than those that were not polluted."