A plague called stony coral tissue loss disease is sweeping down the Caribbean from reefs off of Miami, Florida. It first appeared off the coast of Florida in 2014 and by 2019 it had spread along the Florida Keys and had appeared elsewhere in the Caribbean Sea. The disease destroys the soft tissue of many species of stony coral, killing them within weeks or months of becoming infected.
Alison Noble is a fourth-year Marine Biology student at the Northeastern University. He is one of the 13 students surveying a coral reef off the coast of Panama for signs of the disease. It is a part of the Three Seas programme, a year-long intensive marine biology curriculum. She’s surveying the reef in Panama as part of the Biology of Corals class, watching for what could be the newest outbreak of stony coral tissue loss disease. Noble has to take note of the species and health of every coral she finds. Corals are made up of hundreds or thousands of small organisms called polyps, which live as a single colony. When a coral dies, it turns a harsh white as it loses its zooxanthellae and reveals its limestone skeleton. Stony coral tissue loss disease threatens twenty species that comprise the heart of the Caribbean’s coral reefs. Reefs provide food and beauty to the islands, mainland, and the world, attracting tourists and scientists alike. Noble has marked a diseased coral: CNAT SCTLD. Translation: Colpophyllia natans, possible stony coral tissue loss disease. It is the classical ideal of a brain coral, featuring winding alleys of polyps separated by peaks and valleys of limestone dressed in vivid greens, yellows, and sometimes, purple pigments in zooxanthellae that they use to photosynthesize. This coral, however, has been stripped of its regalia, and instead presents swaths of white death.
Actual cause of the disease has not been found yet. Early studies hint at bacteria, as some researchers have found success in saving some colonies by treating the infections with antibiotics.
Shahjadi Jemim Rahman