Deadly coral disease strikes isolated Dry Tortugas National Park
KEY WEST, Florida – A devastating water-borne disease has spread to the last remaining area of Florida’s coral reef that so far has had no reports of stony coral tissue loss disease.
Dry Tortugas National Park reported on Wednesday that the disease had been found on corals in the remote area, located nearly 70 miles west of Key West.
“Until now, Dry Tortugas National Park was the only remaining section of the Florida Barrier Reef not showing signs of the disease,” said Pedro Ramos, Director of Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks , adding that the discovery was made on May 29.
The national park’s Coral Response team noticed white lesions on some of the corals and began to apply an antibiotic paste to the infected corals.
Antibiotic paste applied to coral near Dry Tortugas National Park (Courtesy: NPS)
They said it appears the disease is concentrated near the southeastern part of Dry Tortugas, about 2.5 east of Fort Jefferson, located on Garden Key.
During an investigation on May 6, they said there was no evidence of coral disease, so experts said they believed they intervened early enough.
“Although the situation is urgent,” said a statement, “everyone can still do their part to save this incredibly important ecosystem. Corals are resilient when given the opportunity to recover. Even with small steps, like moving to a reef safe with sunscreen or the proper disposal of litter to reduce marine debris, can go a long way. “
The stony coral tissue loss disease was first reported in 2014 off the coast of Miami-Dade County. The disease has since spread to reefs in Florida and the Caribbean, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
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The disease shows up as white spots on the coral where it begins to consume living coral tissue. The cause of the illness is still unknown, but officials said bacteria likely play a role as antibiotic treatments have been effective over the years.
Besides treatment, coral reef experts have tried to find ways to save the ecosystem, including rearing corals and planting coral fragments. Reefs are crucial, especially in Florida. They protect our coasts and maintain the underwater ecosystem, which has a ripple effect on the state’s fishing and tourism industries.
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More recently, the Florida Aquarium announced – after three years – that it had successfully crossed grooved brain corals from two different locations. These corals have already been saved from the disease of tissue loss.
Last month, environmental groups began planting more than 60,000 coral fragments in reefs near the Florida Keys. It’s all part of a three-year plan to restore seven coral reefs in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.