Emergency intervention efforts to salvage diseased pillar coral colonies have yielded promising results.
Last June, with disease aggressively advancing, the Department of Environment took swift action to remove and relocate pieces of these rare corals.
Almost one year after a wave of disease was first observed (February 2018) the rare and beautiful namesake corals at the Killer Pillar dive site on Grand Cayman’s west side are scarred, but still alive.
In June, with the disease rapidly progressing, the DOE undertook an emergency intervention.
“We are just experimenting with some of the techniques that have been used in other diseases on other coral species and see what works and what doesn’t,” said DOE Deputy Director Tim Austin.
While 81% of salvaged corals reattached to other parts of the reef were still alive after five months, 23% of these showed signs of white plague disease, according to a one page synopsis published online by the DOE.
Physical barrier techniques showed mixed results at stopping the spread of disease on individual pillars.
Perhaps most encouraging, a nursery experiment which includes dipping coral fragments in an iodine and seawater solution has shown 100% survivorship at three months post-treatment.
“By relocating the fragments of the coral to the nursery grounds and suspending them from the water column in the trees, you really do help give the coral the ability to kind of grow a lot faster than it would when it’s competing with other resources close to the seabed,” said Mr. Austin.
Mr. Austin told Cayman 27 the DOE will keep a close eye on the situation at Killer Pillar and other known locations of pillar coral around our islands.
“We do know that diseases have their seasons, they come and go, they are vigorous for a while and then they die back, and at that point we have to see some kind of coral colony recovery,” said Mr. Austin. “We are monitoring it and we are hoping to have a better handle on how this disease progresses and how it kind of disappears if it does, we hope it does, but a lot is simply unknown.”
The long-term results of this emergency intervention will ultimately inform future efforts to combat coral disease.
Miami-based Dial Cord and Associates and Cayman Eco Divers provided the DOE with assistance on the Killer Pillar salvage and restoration effort.