Joleah Lamb helped discover that plastic marine litter can transport pathogens to fragile coral reefs. Rick Carey / Shutterstock

The global fight against ocean plastic pollution will come into sharp focus at the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly this month in Nairobi, Kenya, with Joleah Lamb, assistant professor of ecology & evolutionary biology at UCI, making a key contribution. Lamb, who studies how diseases affect coral reefs, is co-author of a report being released at the assembly titled Plastics and Shallow Water Coral Reefs. The document spotlights current science on the subject and provides recommendations to policymakers for addressing and reducing plastics’ impacts. Lamb is a marine disease ecologist who identifies strategies for mitigating outbreaks of infectious diseases that threaten ocean and human health. A pioneer in the field, she helped discover that plastics, which make up 60 to 80 percent of marine litter, can carry microbes that can sicken and kill corals. Lamb is encouraged that the U.N. is taking this global issue to heart. “We’re finding that countries which properly control the amount of plastic entering the oceans also have healthier reefs,” she said. “But it’s an issue the world needs to address together.” The report is just a start for Lamb, who’s planning a large-scale study of how pathogens move around in the oceans, with a focus on the biosecurity threat that plastic litter can present.