Published in TheScientist, Carolyn Wilke, April 4, 2019
Stony coral tissue loss disease has already affected 80 percent of Florida’s coastal reef system. Now, a huge team of responders is working to slow its spread and prepare for future restoration efforts.
A brutal disease is ravaging Florida’s reefs. Stony coral tissue loss disease first cropped up in 2014 in the shallow waters near Miami, before spreading north along the coast as well as south and west into the Keys. Roughly 80 percent of Florida Reef Tract, a system similar to a barrier reef, is now affected. In response, scientists studying the disease are teaming up with institutions and the public in a massive coordinated effort to stem the spread of stony coral tissue loss disease and look ahead to someday restoring the reefs that have already been damaged.
Story published in Alert Diver Online . Written by Andrew Bruckner, Research coordinator for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Through an unprecedented collaborative effort, a dedicated response to stony coral tissue loss disease is underway within the Florida Reef Tract. By advancing understanding of the disease and developing options to manage it, the project offers glimmers of hope for a threatened coral reef ecosystem.
Authors: Iker Irazabal, Reef Check Dominican Republic and Manuel Alejandro Rodriguez, Maguá Ecological Foundation, Sosúa, Dominican Republic.
This report documents the first known instance of the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) in the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The disease, which currently affects a number of territories in the Caribbean, appears to be spreading and is a cause of concern to the scientific community and area managers across the region. The disease was observed on 3rd March 2019 in and around the reef of Cayo Arena, near the town of Punta Rucia, Puerto Plata. The species infected, and the pattern of infection follows what has been previously reported for the disease.
In commemoration of the
Mesoamerican Reef Day, the Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative (HRI) is
launching the brand-new Mesoamerican
Reef Data Explorer Platform in collaboration with Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) where users will be
able to visualize over 10 years of reef health data collected, through
interactive maps and pictures.
The Mesoamerican Reef
(MAR) spans more than 1,000 km along the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala
and Honduras and supports the local economies and culturally rich livelihoods
of over two million people. The Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI), through a
precedent-setting conservation partnership of over 70 partner organizations, is
working to improve the health of this diverse ecosystem through science-based
Over the past 12 years,
the Healthy Reefs Initiative (HRI) collectively and quantitatively assesses
reef health and informs science-based management recommendations every 2 years.
Today we are launching our Mesoamerican
Reef Data Explorer Platform in collaboration with Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) where users will be
able to visualize the change on reef health data collected over 10 years,
between 2006 and 2016, through interactive maps and pictures. Data is
accessible by site and by indicator used to determine the Reef Health Index:
coral cover, macroalgae cover, herbivorous and commercial fish biomass.
Our reliable measures
of reef condition allow us to identify the most urgent threats and responses.
HRI training workshops continue to strengthen scientific capacity. Our partners
are scaling-up and improving management in 47 MPAs spanning almost 60,000 km2.
Through our Regional Coral BleachWatch Network, we have quickly mobilized and
supported teams of partners across the region to monitor coral bleaching.
The major threats such
as coral bleaching events as well as the new rapid coral tissue loss disease detected
since summer 2018 in Mexico, are also available in the Mesoamerican Reef Data
In the last 2018 Report Card on the Health of the Mesoamerican Reef, we showed an improvement on 3 of 4 indicators over the decade, including coral cover (18%), herbivorous fish (2,731g/100m2) and commercial fish (909g/100m2). The only indicator with no improvement was fleshy macroalgae, almost doubled from 12% in 2006 to 23% in 2016. Overall, the Reef Health Index improved from 2.3 to 2.8 over the past decade. Compared to global trends of widespread reef decline, these encouraging results of recovery are a testament to the benefits of collaborative management.
Each country’s unique
history and management efforts affect the status of the four reef indicators.
These trends are an urgent Call to Action for country specific management
responses. The platform shows a 10-year perspective on reef health and
conservation aimed to ensure our reefs will endure and thrive into the future.
In the fall of 2018, AGRRA Database Manager Ken Marks helped Benjamin Victor describe a new fish species, Striped Hamlet (Hypoplectus liberte) in Fort Liberte Bay on the northern coast of Haiti that had been initially discovered in 2015.
While surveying with our partners, The Nature Conservancy, AGRRA fish surveyors Dave Grenda and Ken Marks, also the AGRRA Database Manager, noticed this unusual Striped hamlet in Fort Liberte Bay on Haiti’s northern coast. Striped Hamlet (Hypoplectus liberte), the newest member of the fascinating hamlet family as photographed in the muddy sponge-dominated bay where this species was discovered in 2015, was finally described in 2018.
Initially thought to be an novel hybrid (hybrids are common in this genus), the sightings of many individuals soon made it apparent that this was a new species endemic to just that bay.
Black Grouper, Eleuthera, The Bahamas. ‘Train The Trainers’ workshop, May 2018. (c) Ken Marks
Thank you to all our partners for your continued support and inspiration to help conserve Caribbean coral reef ecosystems.
With your collaboration and participation, our collective 2018 accomplishments included:
AGRRA Database Manager Kenneth Marks helped Benjamin Victor describe a new fish species, Striped Hamlet (Hypoplectus liberte) in Fort Liberte Bay on the northern coast of Haiti that had been initially discovered during an AGRRA survey in 2015.
The completion of 356 surveys in eleven countries including Jamaica, Grenada, Saint Vincent, Antigua, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Turks & Caicos, Mexico, Honduras, Belize and Guatemala.
An updated AGRRA database that now includes 2859 total surveys from 29 countries.
Twelve new AGRRA trainers, representing nine organizations across five countries, were certified at a “Train the Trainers” workshop at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in The Bahamas.
The development of new interactive ARC GIS StoryMaps and tools for Healthy Reefs Initiative and GCFI MPA Connect.
Training young scientists of SCUBAnauts International and conducting coral disease surveys in the Lower Florida Keys.
Challenging this year was the increased incidence of coral disease. Thank you to everyone who has responded so far, and please continue to send us observations and photographs of diseased coral outbreaks.
The year ended on an encouraging note through our participation in the Reef Futures 2018 conference in December, where nearly 500 practitioners and scientists gathered to share innovative approaches to coral restoration.
We look forward to continuing our partnerships with you to expand stewardship and understanding of our coral reefs in the Caribbean in 2019.
Happy Holidays! Philip Kramer, Patricia Kramer, Judith Lang, Kenneth Marks Shirley Gun, Lynnette Roth
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.