The Grapevine

Caribbean Reefs Damaged By Mysterious Disease

There’s a mysterious disease currently ravaging the reefs of the Caribbeans, leaving only white skeletons of corals behind, and it’s alarming.

This was recently discovered by divers, all of whom were busy monitoring reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands back in January. As they were collecting data, they started noticing some white lesions breaking up the colorful tissues of corals. This continued for quite some time, with some suffering for up to four weeks, while some died by the very next day, marked by their white stony  skeletons. In fact, it got so bad that by the time the fourth from when they first discovered it ended, more than half of the reef  has already suffered.

Per scientists estimate, the mysterious disease is now affecting around a third of the Caribbean’s 65 reef-building species. Unfortunately, what the disease is actually is still in the dark, and at press time, scientists are still not sure if it’s microbial, bacterial, viral or some other type.

“Whatever the cause, it’s annihilating whole species,” said coral ecologist Marilyn Brandt, who is leading a science team trying to tackle the outbreak from multiple research angles.

According to Brandt, who’s also from the University of the Virgin Islands, past instances of coral reef diseases have cut down the population of these “sea gardens” by up to 50 percent in just a year’s time. However, whatever this disease is, it’s certainly much more alarming, as it has affected the same amount in less than half a year, making it the most devastating outbreak for coral reefs yet.

For now, scientists are suspecting that the mysterious disease could be stony coral tissue loss disease, sometimes referred to as SCTLD, or “skittle-D.” The disease is supposedly responsible for one of the worst coral disease outbreak the world has ever experienced, and was first seen in Florida back in 2014. However, the disease is merely a “prime suspect,” and the researchers still need more time to investigate and hopefully put a stop to it.

“It marches along the reef and rarely leaves corals behind,” Brandt said. “We’re pretty scared.”

coralreef A protein that blocks HIV from attaching to the body's T cells was discovered off the coast of Australia. USFWS - Pacific Region, CC BY 2.0