Stony coral tissue loss disease was first noticed off Miami in 2014 and has spread throughout South Florida's reefs. COURTESY ANDY BRUCKNER

Florida’s devastating coral disease has spread to Caribbean: scientist

A devastating coral disease that started in the Miami area has spread to nearly all of the Florida reef tract and the infection known as stony coral tissue loss disease can now even be found as far away in the Caribbean as Mexico, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Maarten.

In 2018 coral disease researcher Greta Aeby told WMNF that this is one of the most extensive coral disease outbreaks ever.

Also in 2018 another scientist, William Precht, warned that nearly all individuals of certain coral species have died from the disease and that “in some areas, this is essentially equivalent to local extinction, an ecological extirpation of those species.”

When WMNF reported on this coral disease outbreak in 2016, it had spread from nearby a dredging project at PortMiami to Martin County in the north and to the northern part of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in the south. But now it has spread all the way to Key West and beyond.

Our guest on WMNF is a scientist in St. Petersburg, Rob Ruzicka. He is the Coral Reef Research Program manager at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), which is a branch of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

“We refer to this disease as the stony coral tissue loss disease, as you introduced. And it’s a necrotic condition that some of the laboratory diagnosis shows that it begins from the inside out of the corals. So it actually begins underneath the skeleton, the initial lesions, where they occur, and then it begins to work its way on the outside of the skeleton. And what can happen is when the lesion moves to the outside of the coral, you begin to see either a banding pattern, or a blotchy white pattern, and this will spread across the coral in a relatively quick amount of time. And if that banding pattern progresses across the coral colony, it actually kills the living tissue as it moves across. And the tissue begins to either slough off — or come off the coral — as it’s being killed by the coral. So what will happen, is you will then see the white bare skeleton that is left behind, that won’t actually have any of the living tissue of the coral left.”

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