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A new fast-moving lethal disease has spread from the Florida Reef to the corals of the Caribbean

“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.”  Marilyn Brandt, Research Associate Professor, University of the Virgin Islands

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In 2014 a mysterious coral disease appeared on the Florida Reef, the fourth largest coral reef in the world. First discovered off the coast of Miami, the disease has spread the entire reef from Martin County to the north to the south past Key West. The cause of the disease is still unknown, but it has caused disaster throughout the Florida Reef and has now spread to many reefs in the Caribbean. The reefs in Saint Thomas and the VI have recently been infected along with reefs in Belize. 

Extremely lethal, the disease impacts the majority of reef-building corals, affecting twenty coral species.

Reuters reports on the spread of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease to Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.

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ST THOMAS, Virgin Islands/NEW YORK, Sept 26 (Reuters) – Off the coast of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a group of scientists is tearing a reef apart in a feverish attempt to save some of its coral.

They are battling a fast-moving, lethal disease that researchers say is unprecedented in the speed with which it can damage large numbers of coral species across the Caribbean Sea.

Breaking their cardinal rule to never touch the coral, the scientists are removing diseased specimens to try to stop the disease spreading and save what remains.

Meanwhile, researchers and divers in Florida, where the disease was first spotted in 2014, are also removing coral samples and shipping them to places as far-flung as Kansas and Oklahoma, in a last-ditch effort to save the 20 species or more thought to be susceptible to what has been dubbed Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease.

The disease prompts rapid tissue loss, appearing first as white patches that sprawl out across the coral, before eventually stripping it of color and life altogether.

About half the coral species that make up Florida's reef tracts and about a third of those throughout the Caribbean are vulnerable to the disease, at a time when the delicate ecosystems are already threatened by climate change.

Of course, the orange dingleberry is doing all he can to kill every single living organism on earth. He belongs at the Hague for crimes against humanity.

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Stony Coral Disease

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission writes on the symptoms of the disease.

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Tissue loss progresses as a band or line from the base of the colony to the margins or as a series of irregular blotches that radiate outward and often coalesce. Small colonies often die within a few weeks to months, while infections can persist on larger colonies for several seasons.

Corals are relatively simple animals that exhibit signs of stress through changes in pigmentation and loss of tissue. Because a coral consists of only three layers of tissue, it is often difficult to distinguish this tissue-loss disease from other diseases such as white plague. Disease signs can also vary among coral species and within individual corals, ranging from a distinctive white band to a series of irregular blotches that erupt across the colony surface and progressively increase in size.

In some species lesions begin as areas of discolored tissue. As tissue dies, the skeleton becomes exposed and the tissue loss area expands as death advances. Over time, algae or other microorganisms colonize the exposed skeleton

In a separate post, Reuters writes:

Of 40 reef sites in the Florida Keys monitored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 38 are already affected.

“It is a huge disaster that's going on underneath the waves,” says Karen Neely, a coral ecologist at Nova. “This is on the level of the Amazon burning. It is on the level of a disease that's wiping out all of America's forests.”

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease attacks the tissue of coral, transforming healthy, vibrant marine ecosystems into drab, dead worlds within weeks.

The disease has ravaged much of the Atlantic reef off Florida, spread across parts of the Caribbean, and has recently been reported near Belize in central America. Pillar coral, whose clusters of spiky fingers appear to reach up from the sea bed, is “reproductively extinct” off the Florida coast, says Keri O'Neil, chief coral scientist at the Florida Aquarium.

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Despite that, little is known yet about what causes the disease. In Sarasota, Erinn Muller and her team at the Mote Marine Laboratory's Coral Reef Research & Restoration Center are among those trying to identify the pathogen behind it and how it spread from Florida to the Caribbean. “We're getting these jumps and so that would suggest that there's some type of human influence that is allowing that jump to occur,” says Muller.

Our oceans and corals are in dire danger from marine heatwaves, more powerful hurricanes, ocean acidification, human pollutants, plastics, and overfishing.

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