August Update on Coral Disease Outbreak

Update submitted by Judith Lang

Florida Background

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

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.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.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.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.