Story by Caroline Rogers, Ph.D., U.S. Geological Survey
A disease that threatens an entire ecosystem lies below the surface of the sea – out of sight and out of mind.
The disease, which is rapidly killing corals in Virgin Islands National Park,
is a crisis at least on the scale of the 1988 fires that roared across
Yellowstone National Park and the continuing infestations of hemlocks
and other old growth trees in Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky
Mountains and Shenandoah national parks.
But unlike the forest
challenges, this malady is hidden where it can’t always be seen and it
is killing corals, which are particularly slow growing; recovery, if it
even occurs, can take a particularly long time.
This deadly disease is still killing over 20 species of corals. Stony coral tissue loss disease is now present in national parks in Florida and the Virgin Islands, including Biscayne National Park, Buck Island Reef National Monument, Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, and found most recently, in May, in Dry Tortugas National Park.
Click here to read the full story on National Parks Traveler.
During the course of the trip, the volunteers were trained in the identification of 14 different coral species and the diagnosis of the diseases that might be infecting them. Working together, the TCRF dive leaders, trip customers and Aggressor staff completed six critical Atlantic Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) surveys, as well as 40 roving diver surveys to document and quantify impacts from stony coral tissue loss disease on the reefs of the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI).
Read more about the Turks & Caicos Reef Fund, the trip and their findings here.
The English language version of the Press Release appears below. Click for Spanish version/Comunicado de Prensa – versión en Español
June 4, 2020 – As stony coral tissue loss disease spreads in the Caribbean region, a new online tool is tracking its progression and recording the efforts made to control and respond to the threat that it poses to Caribbean coral reefs.
coral tissue loss disease spreads rapidly and affects some of the
slowest-growing and longest-lived reef-building
corals, including the iconic brain
corals, star corals and pillar corals that provide
habitat, shelter and nursery areas for numerous other marine organisms. The
loss of these corals affects overall coral reef health and can have cascading
impacts on the ecosystem services they provide – like food security, tourism
economies, and coastal protection for local communities.
resource managers and their partners across the Caribbean region are actively exchanging
information and sharing best practices about coral disease monitoring,
treatment and outreach.
year, Caribbean coral reefmanagers
from 17 countries and territories came together in Key West to learn about
stony coral tissue loss disease. They suggestedthe
creation of a regional dashboard to share the status of the disease within the
Caribbean,” explained Emma Doyle, MPAConnect Coordinator.
response to this request, MPAConnect (a
partnership between the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute and NOAA’s Coral
Reef Conservation Program) and the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment Program
(AGRRA) collaborated on the development of a GIS-based dashboard as a new online
tool for managers.”
Intended to assist with
response to stony coral tissue loss disease, the dashboard contains topline statistics
that can be viewed at a glance. It also contains insightful information from
many hours of in-water coral reef monitoring that can now help managers to shape
their response to the disease.
“Maps on the dashboard show the presence of stony coral tissue loss
disease around the region, a time lapse of its progression and which coral
species have so far been most affected by stony coral tissue loss disease,” commented Patricia Kramer,
Program Director of Ocean Research and Education Foundation.
“A new tool is also
available that helps to indicate where corals that are most susceptible to
SCTLD are located based on existing AGRRA coral reef monitoring data,” she
The dashboard is made possible with support from the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and Ocean Research and Education Foundation. It’s hosted by AGRRA using Esri ArcGIS software.
This webinar focuses on the Treatment and Intervention Approaches for SCTLD. It will feature talks from Reconnaissance and Intervention Team co-lead Karen Neely, Val Paul, Marilyn Brandt, and Mike Favaro of Ocean Alchemistics, LLC.
An outbreak of an epizootic coral disease, known as Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD), is severely impacting coral reef ecosystems in the Atlantic-Caribbean region. While the disease was first identified on Florida’s reefs in 2014, it has now spread to nine countries and territories in the Caribbean. Coral reef scientists and practitioners in the affected locations have been working to develop and apply existing and new intervention techniques in an effort to halt the spread of the disease, maintain reef structure and function, and protect rare species. Join our webinar to hear from leading experts on their experiences with different SCTLD treatment approaches as well as exciting new efforts to develop alternative treatment options using natural ingredients and probiotics. Presenters include Dr. Karen Neely from Nova Southeastern University, Dr. Marylin Brandt from the University of the Virgin Islands, Mike Favero from Ocean Alchemists LLC, and Dr. Valerie Paul from the Smithsonian Institution.
This webinar is co-hosted by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on behalf of the Caribbean Cooperation Team of the Florida SCTLD Response Effort and the Reef Resilience Network.
PRESS RELEASE February 13th, 2020 - The Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative (HRI) today released its 2020 Mesoamerican Reef Health Report Card. For the first time in 12 years of tracking the health of the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, the overall condition of this vital ecosystem has deteriorated. The Reef Health Index (RHI), which synthesizes ecological data into a “Dow Jones” style index, decreased from 2.8 in 2016 to 2.5 in 2018. Despite the recent decline, reef health still shows improvement compared to 2006 when the HRI monitoring efforts began.
• Follow HRI on Facebook: @HealthyReefsForHealthyPeople
About the Healthy Reefs Initiative: Founded in 2003, Healthy Reefs for Healthy People (HRI) is a collaborative international initiative, hosted by the Smithsonian Institution and made up of more than 70 partners, that quantitatively assesses coral reef health and informs science-based management recommendations for the Mesoamerican Reef Ecosystem (MAR). HRI aims to improve reef management and decision-making to effectively sustain an economically and ecologically thriving MAR eco-region. Together with our partners, we are scaling-up and improving coral reef conservation, restoration and management throughout the region. Find out more at: http://www.healthyreefs.org.
This bulletin is the first quarterly bulletin provided by the Florida Dept of Environmental Protection – Coral Reef Conservation Program and Coral Reef Conservation Program. These bulletins will be Florida’s primary tool for communication to the wider community and will provide high-level updates on the SCTLD outbreak and response efforts with a focus on Florida.
Conservation strategy for healthy reefs in Cozumel The National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) in coordination with the three government orders, and in close alliance with the Cozumel Reef National Park’s Advisory Council, will maintain a temporary and partial suspension of activities to tourism and recreation of the Protected Natural Area (ANP), starting at the “Palancar” reef and covering the restricted use zone.
The Cozumel Reef National Park has available, as of October 7, eleven Reef complexes and the wreck “Felipe Xicotencatl” for tourist activities.
As part of the strategies for
the attention to Stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD), the National
Commission of Natural Protected Areas, in Collaboration with the Advisory
Council of this National Park, a temporary suspension will be implemented as of
October 7, 2019, of underwater activities from the “Palancar” reef and the area
of restricted use, which includes the reef “Colombia” and the site
Temporary suspension of activities is a positive and necessary action for the health of the reef. The objective of this strategy is to give rest to the best preserved sites of the National Park and contribute to its recovery before the progress of the SCTLD. At the same time, other actions are being taken to meet water quality standards within the National Park.
These actions are supported by the results of scientific and technical studies carried out in conjunction with the Institute of Marine Sciences and Limnology of the UNAM, with the Autonomous Metropolitan University, Campus of Iztapalapa, civil organizations and of CONANP itself. The strategy will be coordinated with the Secretary of the Navy (SEMAR), the Port Captaincy, the State Government of Quintana Roo, the City Council of Cozumel, and a close alliance with the Advisory Council of this Protected Natural Area.
partial and temporary suspension of activities will be for tourist and
recreational activities in the zone; remembering that according to studies
conducted by the German Cooperation Agency (GIZ) 80% of the diving and
snorkeling activity in Cozumel takes place within the National Park, which
receives one million 800 thousand direct users per year; and that, on average,
these visitors would be willing to pay 3,052 pesos per person on each trip
to keep the reefs in better state of conservation. If no action was taken,
missing attributes such as water transparency and biodiversity would cause
Cozumel and its reefs to lose 12% of tourism per year, which is equivalent to
one thousand 510 million pesos every 12 months.
Along this line of thought, to
ensure that the conservation objectives of the area are met, the aforementioned
sites will have supervision and surveillance, scientific monitoring
and social communication actions, which include periodic meetings to
assess the progress of the taken actions. It is important to note
that the Cozumel Reef National Park has fourteen reef complexes for
underwater activities, of which only three will have suspended activities.
Eleven sites will still be available plus the wreck “Felipe
All of us on the AGRRA team are deeply moved by Kemit’s condition. We hold special memories of working with him on coral reef restoration projects as well as his vibrant, smart and warm company. Please take a moment to read his story in the link.
“Kemit-Amon Lewis continues to inspire all of us with his determined spirit. There have been many small successes as well as the days when spirits are low. We applaud his fight on this road to recovery and look forward to sharing this journey with him every step of the way.
Photo: Kemit-Amon Lewis (Source file photo by Carol Buchanan)
If you wish to support Kemit’s recovery with a donation, you can use Paypal: paypal.me/kemitAmon or make a Tax deductible gift through the 501(c)(3) designated organization Ay Ay Live, Inc. which is the ‘Friends of Kemit-Amon Lewis’ fund. Please make the checks payable to “Ay Ay Live, Inc.” and mail to Bank of St. Croix, c/o Christiana Williams, P.O. Box 24240, Christiansted, VI 00824