News & Blog

February 13th, 2020 – The Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative (HRI) releases its 2020 Mesoamerican Reef Health Report Card.

PRESS RELEASE – Mesoamerican Reef – February 13th, 2020, issued by Melanie McField , Director-Healthy Reefs Initiative /Smithsonian Institution


To read the full report and findings see: 

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.

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: 

Seasons Greetings from the AGRRA team

Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) feeds on seagrasses and algae causing their body fat to turn green which is the source of their common name. October 2019, Bonaire. Photo by Ken Marks

Seasons Greetings from the AGRRA Team

Thank you to all our partners and contributors who helped make 2019 a great year.

We look forward to sharing more news and details of our work in our January newsletter.

May the wonders of the seas continue to inspire you in the coming year.  

Happy Holidays! 

Philip Kramer, Patricia Kramer, Judith Lang, Kenneth Marks
Shirley Gun, Lynnette Roth

Florida Dept of Environmental Protection issues Summer 2019 Florida Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) Response Bulletin

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.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) – DEP is working with dozens of partners from federal, state, and local agencies, non-governmental organizations, universities, and members of the community to investigate and solve this problem

Read the bulletin for more information on General Updates as well as Response Team efforts.

Conservation strategy for healthy reefs in Cozumel, Quintano Roo, Sept 23, 2019

Conservation strategy for healthy reefs in Cozumel, Quintana Roo, September 23, 2019

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.

See Spanish Language Press Release.

Cozumel, Quintana Roo as of September 23, 2019

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 “El Cielo”.

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.

The 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 Xicotencatl”.

USVI Coral Reef Restoration Hero and AGRRA Alum Kemit-Amon Lewis Needs Our Help

Friends Want to Help Stricken Environmental Activist article

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 (Source file photo by Carol Buchanan)

Shared from the Friends of Kemit-Amon Lewis facebook group:

“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: 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

Emergency Post-Hurricane Dorian Relief for Abacos and Grand Bahama

Hurricane Dorian, seen here by GOES East on Sept. 2, 2019.

For our friends and partners in the Abacos and Grand Bahama, 

Our hearts go out to you, and we hope that by now you’ve had some contact with the outside world and provisions. We have been asked by others for ideas on how to help your recovery after the devastating damage caused by Hurricane Dorian.

We invite our partners in the Caribbean and beyond to help support recovery efforts in The Bahamas.

From the entire AGRRA Team -Judy Lang, Philip Kramer, Ken Marks, Patricia Kramer, Shirley Gun and Lynnette Roth
Here are some options to consider.

To send money, see: 

For more ideas, see:

In Southern Florida, there are opportunities to send material goods to Abaco and Grand Bahama. Here is one suggestion:

Remember that after any emergency, scam artists set up online crowdfunding sites for personal enrichment, not disaster relief. Please be sure to independently check its legitimacy before responding if you are planning to contribute to a crowdfunding site.

USCG releases a bulletin outlining BMPs for ballast water exchange regarding the SCTLD outbreak

Marine Safety Information OES-MSIB Number: 07-19 Bulletin

Ballast Water Best Management Practices to Reduce the Likelihood of Transporting Pathogens That May Spread Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) is a lethal disease that rapidly destroys the soft tissue of many different species of coral. The disease first appeared off the coast of Miami-Dade county, Florida, in September 2014. Nearly half of Florida’s 45 species of hard coral are affected by the disease, including many reef-building types. Once afflicted, the disease progresses rapidly, killing corals within weeks or months. It is estimated to have led to the death of millions of corals since 2014. The causative agent of SCTLD has not yet been identified. Recent work indicates that co-infection of a bacteria and a virus is a possibility.

At the request of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Coast Guard is considering options to mitigate the potential factors that some indications suggest may be contributing to the spread of SCTLD. One such factor may be the potential transfer of pathogens in ballast water.

The Coast Guard wants to ensure that the maritime industry has the information it needs to mitigate this potential contributing factor. Accordingly, vessel representatives are reminded of the mandatory and voluntary management practices associated with the discharge of ballast water (BW) from vessels required to conduct a Ballast Water Exchange (BWE) under U.S. Regulations.

For more detail – read the full Bulletin here.

Experts Share Knowledge to Tackle Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease – Key West, August 1-2, 2019

Judy Lang, AGRRA scientist, joined experts from around the Caribbean region at a workshop in Key West, Florida, August 1-2, 2019 to share information on Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. During the workshop, AGRRA’s Coral Disease Outbreak portal was presented to show how to record observations of the disease and submit survey information.

The following extract was prepared by Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute.

Experts convene at Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Workshop, Key West – August 1-2, 2019
Photo credit – Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI)

Key West, August 1, 2019. Experts from around the Caribbean region are meeting at the Eco-Discovery Center in Key West to share information on an emerging and unprecedented threat to Caribbean coral reefs posed by a coral disease first documented in Florida and now being reported at sites across the region.
Since 2014, the Florida Reef Tract has been severely impacted by a newly documented coral disease which scientists are calling “Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease” because it affects only hard stony corals and is characterized by the rapid loss of live coral tissue. The disease has rapidly spread across coral reefs from Palm Beach to the lower Florida Keys and in the last year has been reported elsewhere in the Caribbean, including in Mexico, Jamaica, Sint Maarten, the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Belize.
“Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease affects some of the slowest-growing and longest-lived reef-building corals, including the iconic brain corals, star corals and pillar corals,” explained Dr. Andy Bruckner, Research Coordinator at Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, where the meeting is taking place.
“Scientists from NOAA and the state of Florida, sanctuary managers and academic partners have been working to document the outbreak, identify causes and contributing factors, and develop treatments and interventions,” he added.
As the disease has begun to be reported in other parts of the Caribbean, experts from Florida are sharing their valuable knowledge with counterparts around the region to help them identify the disease and learn how to respond once it has been documented. The learning exchange includes 22 participants from 17 countries and territories of the Caribbean.
“The visitors will see first-hand how this disease has impacted Florida’s coral reefs. With local experts, they’ll learn about monitoring for and treating the disease and about local efforts to save this incredibly important ecosystem,” explained Dana Wusinich-Mendez from the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program.
“The visitors are not only learning from Florida’s experience but are also sharing with their hosts and with each other. The gathering is an important opportunity to exchange information and experiences about the disease progression and status of response efforts in other affected countries.”

For more information, see Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute on Facebook.

A mysterious coral disease is ravaging Caribbean reefs

Story published in ScienceNews by Cassie Martin, July 9, 2019

Off St. Thomas, the disease is moving faster and killing more corals than any disease before.

CORAL KILLER Lesions (white) eat into the tissue of maze corals on Flat Cay reef, near St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The lesions are caused by a new and deadly disease that’s spreading through the Caribbean.

Divers monitoring coral reefs off St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands in January noticed something alarming: Big white lesions were eating into the colorful tissues of hundreds of stony corals. Some corals were dead by the next day — only their stark white skeletons remained. Others languished for up to two weeks. Within four months, more than half of the reef suffered the same demise.

What’s killing the corals is far from clear, but the prime suspect is stony coral tissue loss disease, sometimes referred to by its initials SCTLD or by the nickname “skittle-D.” This infection, discovered off Florida in 2014, is responsible for what some scientists consider one of the deadliest coral disease outbreaks on record.

Mapping cases of stony coral tissue loss disease
Source: P.R. Kramer, L. Roth and J. Lang/AGRRA 2019 (Data source: AGRRA)

Click to read more of this story.

Update of SCTLD in Southeast Florida

Update of SCTLD In Southeast Florida, May 22, 2019.
Submitted by Brian Walker, Nova Southeastern University, Florida

M. cavernosa with expanding SCTLD lesion that has crossed its firebreak.
Photo by  © Brian Walker 2019

Over the last few weeks in Southeast Florida, we may be seeing the SCTLD disease on Montastraea cavernosa (MCAV) spreading more rapidly than before, and now large Orbicella are getting reinfections and needing more re-treatments. We have many firebreak margins with amoxicillin treatments that have lost a lot of tissue within a week. The good news is the firebreaks are holding at the early (two weeks) stage.

On many of our MCAV, the tissue is sloughing off rapidly without a bleached tissue margin. See attached example in which the disease crossed our firebreak and spread over this coral in about 5 weeks. Also notice several single, new disease spots way ahead of the margin. Anecdotally, the overall disease prevalence in areas our strike teams have been diving (nearshore northern Miami-Dade) is still relatively low.

This seems to be following the same pattern as last year when more treatments were required in May and June, and once again seems to correspond to the onset of the rainy season (we had a very rainy end of April).