Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Scientists Race to Stop ‘Ebola’ of Coral Diseases From Spreading in U.S. Virgin Islands

Oceans
A scientist treats coral impacted by stony coral tissue loss disease. Brian Walker / Nova Southeastern University / NOAA

Scientists are racing to save coral reefs off the coast of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands from a virulent, deadly disease, Reuters reported Thursday, taking the unusual step of removing infected coral from the reef.


Stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) was first discovered in Florida in 2014. It begins as white patches that take over the coral, killing 66 to 100 percent of the species it infects. Between 2013 and 2018, it led to a coral decline in Florida's Upper Keys of more than 40 percent.

"I have never seen anything that affects so many species, so quickly and so viciously—and it just continues," Marilyn Brandt of the University of the Virgin Islands told Reuters. "All the diseases I've studied in the past could be considered like the flu. They come every year, seasonally, and sometimes there are worse outbreaks. This thing is more like Ebola. It's a killer, and we don't know how to stop it."

The disease was first spotted close to the U.S. Virgin Islands in early 2019, The BVI Beacon reported Tuesday.

Once it infects a coral, it spreads quickly, at a rate of a couple of centimeters per day.

"Within a month, you'll have the entire coral head gone," Association of Reef Keepers Director Dr. Shannon Gore told The BVI Beacon.

Between corals, it moves at a rate of about five kilometers (approximately three miles) per month. Since its discovery in Florida in 2014, it has impacted more than 96,000 acres of reef and spread 250 miles down the Florida coast.

The spread of SCTLD along the Florida Reef Tract from 2014 to 2019.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary / NOAA

SCTLD has also been spotted off the coasts of St. Maarten, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Jamaica.

In Florida, it has impacted half of the stony corals that make up the Florida Reef Tract, including five endangered species, Newsweek reported.

In addition to removing diseased coral, scientists have attempted to treat it by removing healthy corals and applying antibiotics directly to reefs, but scientists are also working on a long-term solution, including a potential probiotic, according to The BVI Beacon.

Scientists are also hoping to better understand the disease in order to find a cure.

"NOAA scientists are working with partners to identify a pathogen that causes the tissue loss, better characterize transmission of the disease, and understand the patterns of spread throughout the reef and overall impacts of the disease," Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary research coordinator Dr. Andy Bruckner told Newsweek.

Corals around the world are more susceptible to disease because of the warmer ocean temperatures caused by the climate crisis, according to Yale Environment 360. Coral bleaching, when warm water forces coral to expel the algae that give them food and color, makes coral more likely to get sick.

The coral near Miami where the disease was first discovered had just endured both a dredging project and a bleaching event, scientists told Reuters.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. JustTulsa / CC BY 2.0

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less
A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less
Left: Lemurs in Madagascar on March 30, 2017. Mathias Appel / Flickr. Right: A North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. National Marine Fisheries Service

A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.

Read More Show Less
Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular. Colin Dunn / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Julia Vergin

It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Data from a scientist measuring macroalgal communities in rocky shores in the Argentinean Patagonia would be added to the new system. Patricia Miloslavich / University of Delaware

Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.

EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.

Read More Show Less