What scientists in Florida now think may be a new coral disease has spread from the Miami-Dade county area to both the northern limit of the Florida reef tract and southwest into the lower Florida Keys. A Disease Advisory Committee has been formed and its teams are drafting information that, we hope, can soon be shared.
Characteristic of this disease is that sick corals display multiple lesions and quickly die. Disproportionately impacted are the meandroid corals–i.e., pillar corals (Dendrogyra cylindrus), elliptical star corals (Dichocoenia stokes), smooth flower corals (Eusmilia fastigiata) and maze corals (Meandrina). Starlet corals that develop numerous “blotchy” lesions, as well as diverse brain and star (boulder) corals, are also dying quickly.
Reef researchers, managers and sport divers should continue to be on the lookout for sites with an unusually high percentage of diseased and recently dead corals. Thanks to everyone who has responded so far, and please continue to send observations and photographs of diseased coral outbreaks to email@example.com.
Jamaica’s north coast
We have now learned that two colonies of maze coral (Meandrina jacksoni) with signs of this new disease were already present at a Mammee Bay dive site in July 2017, i.e., several months before the north coast reefs experienced severe bleaching last Fall. Moreover, they were dead by December 2017, as were two, nearby large pillar corals (J. Hollstein, pers. comm. 2018).
July 2017: maze coral (Meandrina jacksoni) with multiple lesions, 8 m, Mammee Bay. Photo by J. Hollstein.
As previously reported, massive starlet corals (Siderastrea siderea) with blotchy lesions were photographed during the Fall 2017 bleaching at a sediment-impacted site near Discovery Bay (Fig. 2, B. Charpentier, pers. comm.).
November 2017: massive starlet coral (Siderastrea siderea) with many lesions, 10 m, Dairy Bull. Photo by B. Charpentier.
After first being sighted at the White River Special Fishery Conservation Area in early February 2018 (D. Anderson and A. Ross, pers. comm.), the prevalence of sick and dying corals increased dramatically along the north coast. Prominent among the taxa with multiple lesions are pillar corals, brain corals (Pseudodiploria strigosa, Fig. 3, Diploria labyrinthiformis, Colpophyllia natans), star corals (Orbicella spp.), great star coral (Montastraea cavernosa), and massive starlet corals (Siderastrea siderea).
May 2018: symmetrical brain coral (Pseudodiploria strigosa) with a single lesion, 5-7 m, Dunns River. Photo by B. Charpentier.
Cover Photo : Diseased lobed star coral (Orbicella annularis) and partially bleached fire coral (Millepora complanata) at 10 m, Dairy Bull, Jamaica. Photo by Bernadette Charpentier.
Thanks to Dalelan Anderson, Andrew Bruckner, Bernadette Charpentier, Jennifer Hollstein, Esther Peters and Andrew Ross for information and/or photographs.
View seaward of healthy-looking, diseased and dead corals at 10 m on the Dairy Bull fore-reef terrace in early May, 2018, Jamaica. Photo by E. Burge.
July 12, 2018
Caribbean-area reef researchers and sport divers should be on the lookout for sites with an unusually high percentage of diseased and recently dead corals. Many of you will have heard that corals in Florida are experiencing one of the largest disease outbreaks on record. Sick corals first appeared offshore the Miami-Dade County area in September 2014. The outbreak area has since progressed 175 km to the northern limit of the Florida reef tract and southwest to Looe Key in the Lower Keys. Numerous coral species (except the acroporids) have been afflicted, disease prevalence has reached 80% of all colonies present at a site, and a number of coral diseases have been observed.
Meantime, the prevalence of sick and dying corals on north Jamaican reefs has increased dramatically since this area experienced a severe bleaching event in Fall 2017. The species of affected corals and their signs of disease show considerable overlap with the reports from Florida. More details and photos of diseased Jamaican corals will be posted at www.agrra.org; permission to collect diseased tissue samples especially from the severely affected Dairy Bull reef is in the process of being obtained by the UWI Discovery Bay Marine Lab.
On July 3 researchers from UNAM and CONANP discovered a reef near Puerto Morelos, Mexico to have a severe outbreak of coral disease affecting similar species and exhibiting similar patters as those in Florida. Although diseased colonies have been observed in other reefs in the north of the Mexican Caribbean, the prevalence seems to be lower (<10%) than at the “fish market” site, where >50% of several species are affected. Photos and information about this Mexico site will soon be posted at www.barcolab.org.
The Florida Disease Advisory Committee is now referring to all affected Floridian corals as having “tissue-loss disease.” It appears to be water borne and may potentially be spread by divers’ gear.
If you are diving in the Caribbean after diving in Florida, please take these extra precautions:
– Please soak your gear in a 5% chlorine bleach solution for 30 minutes, then rinse well.
– While diving, please be aware of your fins, and don’t let divers casually touch any of the currently diseased corals or they may transmit whatever is killing them to other corals!
Let’s not have reef scientists and sport divers become vectors of disease.
After having been exposed to a severe bleaching event in the fall of 2017, the prevalence of sick and dying corals on north Jamaican reefs, has increased dramatically. Pseudodiploria strigosa, Diploria labyrinthiformis, Colpophyllia natans, Dendrogyra cylindrus , Montastraea cavernosa , as well as Orbicella ,Mycetophyllia , and Agaricia are prominent among the taxa displaying signs of a disease that resembles white plague.
See photos labelled 1-5 below of corals with disease signs resembling white plague in late April-May, 2018. Click to enlarge each photo.
1 – Diplora labyrinthiformis (L), Pseudodiploria strigosa (R) in 10 m, Dairy Bull fore-reef terrace, April 2018.
2 – Dendrogyra cylindrus, Dairy Bull fore-reef terrace, 9 m.
3 – Montastraea cavernosa, Rio Bueno fore-reef wall, 12 m.
4 – Orbicella annularis, CARICOMP site, Discovery Bay, fore-reef terrace, 10 m.
5 – Mycetophyllia aliciae, Pinnacle 1, Discovery Bay, 35 m, fore-reef slope.
Concern has been raised that the identities of these corals overlap with species affected by an outbreak of a similar-looking disease that, since 2014, has caused extensive losses along the Florida reef tract (W. Precht et al. 2016, Lunz et al. 2018).
Moreover, some ailing Siderastrea siderea photographed in transects during the Fall 2017 bleaching at a 10-m site near Discovery Bay have “blotchy” lesions (B. Charpentier, unpubl.) resembling those of the novel “Siderastrea white blotch syndrome” that was first noted in Florida in 2015 (L. Precht et al. (2018). When examined in April-May 2018, some of these corals had died while others were very sick, this disease had spread to previously unaffected colonies in the area and has been seen at other sites between Alligator Head and Rio Bueno.
See photos below 1-3 as examples of diseased Siderastrea siderea at 10 m depth on shallow fore-reef terrace reefs with signs that resemble Siderastrea white blotch syndrome in late April-May, 2018.
Note the large populations of Diadema antillarum, and abundant crustose coralline algae which are common at these depths in this area. Click to enlarge each photo.
1 – The Bull, early stage of disease.
2 – . Dairy Bull, late stage of disease.
3 – Dairy Bull, note the three-spot damselfish (Stegastes planifrons) and the abundant fresh bite marks on this coral; could damselfish act as vectors spreading this disease?
Orbicella annularis with yellow band disease. CARICOMP site, Discovery Bay, fore-reef terrace, 10 m, May 2018.
At the same time, the incidence of the yellow band disease in Orbicella annularis, which had already risen between 2015 and 2017 in the area around Discovery Bay has further increased since Fall 2017, especially among colonies that have not recovered from bleaching and remain pale.
Thanks particularly to B. Charpentier, D. Henry and D. Anderson for information about diseased Jamaican corals, and to B. Charpentier, E. Burge and P. Dustan for photos.
Lunz K, J Landsberg, Y Kiru and V Brinkhuis. 2017. Investigation of the coral disease outbreak affecting scleractinian coral species along the Florida Reef Tract. Final Report for Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. vi+14 pp.
Precht L, S Thanner, E Peters, K Rogers, L Kaufman, B Aronson, R Aronson, W Precht. 2018. Emerging Coral Disease Threatens Ailing Caribbean Reefs. ECO Mag March 2018 https://www.ecomagazine.com/news/science/emerging-coral-disease-threatens-ailing-caribbean-reefs
Precht WF, BE Gintert, ML Robbart, R Fura R, R van Woesik. 2016. Unprecedented Disease-Related Coral Mortality in Southeastern Florida. Sci. Rep. 6:31374; doi: 10.1038/srep31374.
Saving the world’s coral reefs requires a multi-pronged approach. Immediate and aggressive action on climate change is paramount for the long-term survival of reefs; however, carbon already released into the atmosphere will continue to warm ocean waters to a level inhospitable to corals for decades to come. This symposium will bring together experts from around the world to share the latest science and techniques for coral reef restoration while kicking-off a global effort to dramatically scale-up the impact and reach of restoration as a major tool for coral reef conservation and management. Reef Futures 2018 is being planned in conjunction with the upcoming Great Barrier Reef Restoration Symposium and will build on information exchanged there. We are striving for robust international participation and cross-fertilization of disciplines to develop new ideas. Scholarships and reduced registration rates are available to encourage participation from developing nations.
We will be hosting a week of activities with the primary content occurring Dec 11-13. The symposium will include oral presentations, posters, panel discussions, workshops, exhibits, site visits, and fun times! We invite participation from solution-minded individuals from a wide variety of fields – materials science, environmental engineering, wildlife conservation and natural resource management, environmental policy, communications, and of course coral biology and restoration. Please distribute this announcement far and wide via your networks!
The themes of Reef Futures 2018 are:
– The Role of Restoration in Reef Management and Conservation
– Restoration Operations and Mechanics: best practices for scaling-up restoration
– Restoration and Interventions in the Context of a Changing Planet
– Demonstrating the Value and Efficacy of Restoration and Interventions
– Restoration Vignettes: restoration efforts from around the world
Visit the Reef Futures 2018 website for more information and register to submit an abstract or attend the event. Abstracts are due July 31. Applicants will be notified in September, when a draft program will be available.
Oceans Deeply is designed to help you understand the complex web of environmental, social and economic issues facing the world’s oceans.
Story by Amelia Urry:
As a mysterious but persistent pathogen threatens the last remaining healthy coral ecosystem in the continental United States, researchers are struggling to understand how the disease spreads and to devise ways to stop it.
In 2014, coral reefs in Florida started to turn bright white. But this was not the heat-stress bleaching that has become a familiar and deadly phenomenon in recent years – this was a disease. Coral tissue sickened and died, leaving a bare white skeleton. Like a contagious flu strain, it spread quickly through the corals of southeast Florida and the upper Florida Keys. Then, unlike almost every other coral disease scientists know of, it refused to go away.
Four years later, the mysterious disease – one of a group of tissue-loss diseases that affect corals – continues to spread, though its precise cause is still unidentified. On some reefs it has reached, between 60 and 100 percent of corals are infected; many eventually die.
A group of scientists, government agencies and nonprofits, backed by an emergency $1 million grant from the state, is now trying to understand the disease as it moves toward the lower Florida Keys, where it threatens the healthiest remaining stretch of coral reef in the continental United States – and the estimated $6 billion that reef-related activities bring to the state.
Students conduct in-water monitoring during the “Train The Trainers” workshop, Eluethera, The Bahamas, May 6-11, 2018
AGRRA scientists Ken Marks and Judith Lang and Ana Giro Petersen, the Guatemalan Coordinator for Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative, conducted an AGRRA “Train The Trainers” workshop in Eluethera, The Bahamas, May 6-11, 2018. Participants from The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Antigua and U.S took part in this week long field and classroom training to certify new AGRRA Lead Trainers ahead of the 2018 monitoring season.
Evening presentations during the “Train The Trainers” workshop
The “Train The Trainers” workshop will help to expand reef conservation among Caribbean countries.
Thank you to the Perry Institute for Marine Science, Healthy Reefs Initiative, Bahamas National Trust, Disney World Conservation Fund, Atlantis Blue Project Foundation, FUNDEMAR, Cape Eleuthera Institute, The Turks and Caicos Reef Fund and the governments of Antigua, Jamaica, Turks and Caicos for their cooperation and support for this AGRRA workshop.
A prodigal coral genus returns: Undaria is again Agaricia pending further taxonomic research
Budd et al. (1994) classified species of bifacial Agaricia (agaricities, tenuifolia, humilis) as species of Undaria, and this genus name was adopted by AGRRA in 2013. We have since learned that Undaria is an invalid genus name according to the rules of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (G. van Moorsel, pers. comm.). Pending the results of what we hope will be further molecular and morphological research, Agaricia is replacing Undaria in the AGRRA training and database.
Reference: Budd, A.F., T.A. Stemann, and K.G. Johnson. 1994. Stratigraphic distribution of genera and species of Neogene to Recent Caribbean reef corals. Journal of Paleontology 68:951-977.)
Effective May 3, 2018:The AGRRA training materials and database have been updated to reflect this change.
Turn back your heating or air conditioning by at least 1 degree Celsius or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit and replace all your lights with LED bulbs OR invest in a renewal energy source or electric car
Keep flying to a minimum: aim for no more than THREE return air-tickets in a year and offset all your flights, for example with the WorldLandTrust
Reduce your meat and dairy consumption; we suggest eating meat no more than TWO times a week
Make sure ALL the fish and sea-food you consume comes from sustainable sources
Watch at least ONE film and read at least ONE book on Climate Change
Explain to at least TEN contacts THREE or so key facts behind climate change and its impacts
Join ONE campaign to help protect reefs or oppose climate change
Organize at least THREE educational talks and/or showings of the film Chasing Coral
Write to at least THREE local elected representatives about corals and climate change
Participate in or support at least ONE REEF CONSERVATION ACTIVITY. If you will be diving or snorkeling, learn how to recognize the different types of damage that can severely impact coral reefs, and send your observations to a relevant organization. Alternatively, take part in or otherwise support a citizen science or volunteer project.
The report is based on a new study of 319 coral reef sites along 1000 km of the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, which were monitored for living coral cover, fleshy macroalgal cover, herbivorous fish biomass (parrot and surgeonfish) and commercially important fish biomass (snappers and groupers).
The 69 partner organizations in HRI are working together to successfully improve management and reef health. The 2018 Report Card records an improvement in reef health from ‘Poor’ in 2006 to ‘Fair’ this year, with increases in three of the four indicators over the decade.
In addition to documenting a number of major findings, the report describes County-specific findings and Calls to Action for Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. Read the full version of the Press Release.