Florida Reef Tract Coral Disease Outbreak: Response

 

Investigation

Investigations into potential pathogens and causes of the outbreak are complex and ongoing. It was first documented off Virginia Key, near Miami, in an area that is chronically stressed by a number of factors including unfavorable water quality.

Scientists monitor leading edge of disease outbreak

Identifying pathogens and monitoring sentinel coral colonies

Interventions and Treatments

Scientists and resource managers are coordinating interventions and treatments with the goal to slow or stop the spread of stony coral tissue loss disease. The most urgent needs are at the disease front in the Lower Keys. Strategies include colony-specific interventions to prevent mortality of the most important corals, efforts to reduce the pathogen load, and salvage of selected colonies to prevent the loss of the diversity and genetic structure of the corals.

Citizen scientists monitor coral antibiotic treatments

Following antibiotic treatments on Oct. 21, 2018, monitoring continues of diseased corals at Looe Key with volunteers with DiveN2Life, a non-profit organization providing youth with the experience and education to influence environmental change. Two student divers are collaborating with scientists by photographing the treatment sites on a regular basis. Looe Key is a popular diving and snorkeling site in the Lower Florida Keys where stony coral tissue loss disease remains very active.

diver swimming down to examine a coral reef
A student diver with the nonprofit organization DiveN2Life photographs treated corals at Looe Key. Credit: Kama Cannon/DiveN2Life
diver swimming towards a coral reef
A student scientist with the nonprofit organization DiveN2Life searches for possible signs of stony coral tissue loss disease at a treated site at Looe Key, a popular dive and snorkel location in the Lower Florida Keys. Credit: Kama Cannon/DiveN2Life

Disease intervention strategies to save Florida's largest, oldest corals

Nova Southeastern University laboratory treatment trials in tanks

Nova Southeastern University laboratory treatment trials in ocean

Direct UV treatment unsuccessful at halting disease progression

 

Diver Alysha Brunelle applies chlorinated epoxy to the firebreak and active disease margins on a Great Star coral (Montastraea cavernosa) as an experiment to determine if it will slow or stop progression of stony coral tissue loss disease. Credit: Brian K. Walker/Nova Southeastern University. Higher Resolution Version

Additional videos and photos

Researcher Brian Walker uses the hammer and chisel method to create a 1-2 cm wide and 1 cm deep firebreak along the scored marks around a disease margin. Credit: Alysha Brunelle/Nova Southeastern University. Higher Resolution Version

Additional videos and photos

Restoration

Disease-resistant corals are being studied for restoration efforts. In laboratories throughout Florida, gene banks preserve species that could potentially be grown and transplanted along the reef.

Coral Rescue – Healthy corals of the susceptible species collected and stored in land-based facilities to maintain diversity in restoration projects. 

Pillar Coral Genetic Rescue Project

Mote Marine Laboratory on Summerland Key developed a micro-fragmentation and fusion method to speed the growth of brain, boulder and star corals - crucial reef-building species known for their slow growth in the wild.

Restoration in the Age of Disease

 

scientist handeling coral fragments in a water tank
Mote Marine Laboratory on Summerland Key developed a micro-fragmentation and fusion method to speed the growth of crucial reef-building species. Credit: Mote Marine Laboratory