Coral Reefs Infected by Disease

Healthy brain coral before being targeted by SCTLD.

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Healthy brain coral before being targeted by SCTLD.

Natalie Ramirez, Reporter

Beneath the waters, a killer roams, however, it is different from sharks and piranhas. In 2014, off the coast of Miami, Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) was discovered. Today, it is in at least twenty countries and as of May 2021, corals from Florida’s Dry Tortugas National Park became infected.

The disease destroys soft tissue of 22 types of reef building coral. It can be presumed that it is spread by either bacteria, a virus, or a combination of both. Color and life is taken from animals as white patches mark infected colonies. Pillar, brain, and star corals are species more vulnerable to the disease. When infected, it only takes weeks or months for them to die. Coral disease specialists William Precht states it’s the “worst thing I’ve ever seen”.

Water currents are what slowly spread SCTLD, though other research suggests that commercial shipping vessels also contribute to its far reach. The Bahamas had been previously untouched thanks to ocean currents running northward up the Florida coast. That was until November of 2019, when marine ecologist Craig Dahlgren and his team had received reports of unknown infection on corals near Freeport. Dahlgren says, “Colonies that took hundreds of years to grow can be wiped out in a matter of weeks”.

Losing such large amounts of coral in so little time can prove to be a great danger. During storms, coral reefs act as barrier against the surge of rising water and waves by breaking up the energy of the wave. They also support complex food webs, if the reefs die, then many marine animals will lose their habitat.

Numerous researchers are working to find a cause of the disease in hopes of preventing it from spreading further. An unidentified virus was found in infected coral cells and believed to have a major role in severity of the disease. Others disagreed because of the fact that the infected coral give positive responses to antibiotics, which don’t kill viruses, but bacteria. The most likely possibility is that the culprit is not one thing working on its own.