A unique outbreak of coral disease is sweeping across southern Florida’s coral reefs.
Are we seeing it on our reefs?
“We think that this is a new, previously unidentified disease, it looks really similar to a lot of those previous white diseases, like white pox or white plague,” said Nova Southeastern University research scientist Dr. Karen Neely. “What makes it a little bit different is that we often see multiple lesions on the same coral, so you might have one big coral head that there will be like different spots all over where you have tissue radiating out from those.”
The disease affects reef building corals. Dr. Neely told Cayman 27 closing basic information gaps is now a major research priority.
“We don’t know what the pathogen for this disease is, we have no idea what some potential treatment options are might be, even figuring out exactly where that disease was, it took a lot of time effort and money,” said Dr. Neely.
While there’s no evidence of this disease impacting Cayman’s coral reefs, Department of Environment Deputy Director Tim Austin said the DOE is monitoring the outbreak closely.
“Bleaching and coral disease are quite closely related, again the warmer water allows corals, the diseases to be more virulent, so we see that happening a lot, you know in the summer, a bleaching event followed by a disease event,” said Mr. Austin.
CCMI Science and Education Manager Katie Correia told Cayman 27 this disease might strike in advance of a bleaching event.
“From what I understand, this disease is aggressive, and it’s coming in before the bleaching season, so we do have our eyes open for it, but as of now we have not seen it,” said Ms. Correia.
Dr. Neely said while the hope is the outbreak stays localised in Florida, there’s no guarantee it will.
“We have often seen other diseases like the disease that affected the long-spined sea urchin, decades ago, you could sort of watch that sweep through the Caribbean, so it is certainly possible that this could happen as well,” said Dr. Neely.
The DOE is calling on the local dive community to be on the lookout for signs of coral disease. Any signs of coral disease or coral bleaching can be reported to the DOE’s Cayman Coral Watch social media page.