Florida’s coral disease outbreak is most “extensive” ever: scientist

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease - white-plague disease coral disease FWC - stony coral tissue loss disease

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A devastating coral disease continues to spread through Florida’s reefs and scientists say it may cause some coral species to go locally extinct; on WMNF’s MidPoint we spoke with Greta Aeby, a coral disease ecologist who is studying this disease outbreak at the Smithsonian Marine Station in Ft. Pierce. Aeby is a research associate with Qatar University in Doha.

On the show we found out what this tissue loss disease does to infected corals. Some researchers have called it “white-plague disease,” but Aeby prefers a more general name. She said, “we believe based on some antibiotic trials that it is caused by a bacterial pathogen.”

“This is a very nasty tissue-loss disease. As the corals gets sick, the living part of the animal dies and sloughs off, leaving just the bare white skeleton — basically ‘bones of the coral.’ Unfortunately this disease can kill the corals quite rapidly, depending on the size of the coral colony when it gets sick and the species.”

Even before this disease outbreak, corals in Florida were under so much pressure from different stressors like nutrient pollution from runoff, dredging, which created a lot of sediment and heat stress which led to coral bleaching. Stress impacts the susceptibility of corals to disease.

When WMNF reported on this coral disease outbreak two years ago it had spread from nearby a dredging project at PortMiami to the north to Martin County and south to the northern part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Then in a follow-up story three months ago we learned that it has spread further south in the Florida Keys all the way to one of the most famous reefs in Florida – Looe Key in the southern Keys. It appears to still be spreading and Aeby says, “There has not been a disease outbreak this extensive ever.” She’s studied coral disease all over the world.

The disease is expected to cause local extinctions of some coral species. But a few species seem not to be affected at all.

Even people who don’t  snorkel or may never see a coral reef  should care because of the economic and ecological importance of coral reefs. They protect shorelines from waves during storms, they have a huge impact on tourism and fishing as well.

Listen to the full show here:

I should point out that Greta and I were graduate students together at the University of Hawai`i years ago.

Here’s video of coral tissue loss disease from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 2017:


Also on the show we talked about Monday’s two-hour one-on-one meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladamir Putin. Trump declared it a ‘very good start.’ And disputing the U.S. intelligence community, Trump said,’I don’t see any reason why’ Russia would interfere in the 2016 election.

reporting from the Associated Press was used in this report