Scientists Race to Decode Disease Devastating Florida Coral Reefs

Article published by Oceans Deeply May 16 ,2018

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.

For more of the story, read the full article here.

Photo on front of news item – photo credit Phil Dustan.