Ships Spreading A Deadly Coral Disease

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Source: Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock

A new study suggests that ships may be spreading a deadly coral disease across Florida and the Caribbean, reports Science Daily.

The findings by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science could help establish testing and treatment methods to mitigate the risk of further disease spread.

Stony coral tissue loss disease

UM said that stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) – which destroys the soft tissue of at least 22 species of reef-building corals, killing them within weeks or months of becoming infected – was first observed near Miami in 2014 and has since spread throughout all of Florida’s coral reef and into the Caribbean, including in waters off Jamaica, St. Maarten, US Virgin Islands and Belize.

Stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) destroys the soft tissue of at least 22 species of reef-building corals, killing them within weeks or months of becoming infected.

Researchers suggest that transport through ship hulls, where the vessel takes on ballast water in one region to keep it stable and releases it at a different port, may have contributed to disease spread.

Outbreaks in very distant locations suggest that disease transport was aided by means other than just ocean currents, such as through ship ballast water,” said the study’s lead author Michael Studivan, an assistant scientist at the UM Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) and NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

Disease transmission experiments

The UM Rosenstiel School researchers said they conducted two disease transmission experiments in the Experimental Reef Lab at the Rosenstiel School which simulated ship’s ballast water and UV treatment of ballast water to determine if SCTLD pathogens can be transported in this manner and whether established ballast water treatment approaches such as UV can successfully prevent the spread of disease.

The results suggest that ship’s ballast water poses a threat to continued spread and persistence of SCTLD throughout the Caribbean and potentially to reefs in the Pacific, and that established treatment and testing standards may not mitigate the risk of disease spread,” said Studivan.

The Experimental Reef Lab was designed and built by NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) and CIMAS at the Rosenstiel School for conducting research on coral response to changing environmental conditions.

UM said the study, titled ‘Transmission of stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) in simulated ballast water confirms the potential for ship-born spread’, was published on November 1, 2022, in the journal Scientific Reports.

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Source: Science Daily

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