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Detecting Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease

A new coral disease is coming to Belize! Our experience with lionfish and sargassum taught us that's it's only a matter of time until we start seeing this in Belize. Our coral nursery trainee attended a workshop a few days ago to learn about what scientists know about this desease so far. In summary, not very much but it's spreading fast and quickly killing entire colonies. Let's stay informed and be on the lookout.

A coral disease that was first documented in Florida is now being reported in some parts of the Caribbean. A new guide from MPAConnect seeks to help Caribbean marine natural resource managers who are responsible for priority coral reef marine protected areas to be on the alert for this disease and to detect whether it is occurring on their coral reefs.

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease spreads rapidly and affects some of the slowest-growing and longest-lived reef-building corals, including the iconic brain corals, star corals and pillar corals. Scientists are uncertain about the cause of the disease, but it appears to be water-borne and can be spread by contact.

This disease is now appearing in parts of the Caribbean, including Mexico, Jamaica and the US Virgin Islands, and it is also suspected in some other locations. Early detection of the disease and its correct identification are important to permit actions to monitor, treat and restore affected coral reefs.

"Through this new infographic we're making the latest knowledge about this emerging threat to coral reefs accessible to marine protected area (MPA) managers across the Caribbean region," explained Ms. Emma Doyle, Coordinator of MPAConnect.

"The poster summarizes the key technical knowledge needed for the detection and identification of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, as learned during an exchange visit to Florida for Mexican MPA managers at the end of 2018. We're pleased to now share this knowledge with other managers in the MPAConnect network and beyond," she added.

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease can be confused with other coral diseases, with bleaching and with fish bites. The guide has user-friendly graphics and practical tips to familiarize managers with the coral species that are most susceptible to the disease and to help them understand the factors that must be observed and monitored in the field in order to correctly identify the disease.

The guide lists practical steps that managers can take to help prevent further spread of the disease. Proactive communications are needed with stakeholders in the dive, tourism, fishing and shipping industries to promote reporting of suspected cases, to ensure the disinfection of dive gear, and to apply best management of ballast and waste water from ships. We hope the guide will equip managers to advise their agencies and stakeholders about this new threat.

"While we work to monitor this new disease and to develop effective treatment protocols, we have to do everything possible to build the resilience of coral reefs by reducing the other threats that are well known to us. This means joining forces with scientists, authorities and communities, ensuring full compliance with fisheries and MPA regulations, and applying best MPA management practices," urged Ms. Dana Wusinich-Mendez, Team Lead for the Atlantic and Caribbean at NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program.

MPAConnect is a partnership between the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program and 30 marine protected areas in 10 countries and territories. Go to�/ to download the printable poster or a smaller file for electronic sharing. For more information please contact [email protected]

Scientists responding to stony coral tissue loss disease in Florida are consulting with resource managers throughout the Caribbean where disease outbreaks in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Mexico, Jamaica, and St. Maarten share some of the same signs and patterns as stony coral tissue loss disease. However, making a connection between Florida and similar outbreaks in the Caribbean will be difficult until the responsible pathogen or other causative agent is identified. That investigation is ongoing.

The Florida response team, consisting of more than three dozen government agencies, universities and conservation organizations, is exchanging information with resource managers throughout the region, including disease interventions and treatments. As global and local threats to coral reefs increase in frequency and severity, natural resource managers are combining their limited resources to strategically address common challenges.

Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI)

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Help detecting Stony Tissue Loss Disease
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To all tour operators and guides. We are asking your assistance in reporting any sightings of corals seen on your dive or snorkel trip that do not look healthy via the submission of photos. We are on the lookout for Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD).
The disease first appeared in 2014 in Florida, in 2018 it was confirmed in areas of the Caribbean and recently summer of 2019 has been one confirmed case in Belize, within the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve area of Northern Ambergris Caye. The disease affects nearly half of the stony coral species, including primary reef-building species. Elkhorn and staghorn do not seem to be affected by the disease. The cause of the disease is still unknown, and all the factors that affect transmission is not fully understood. Scientist are yet to find a way to treat the disease successfully, although many studies are finding short success on small scales. The pathogen is presumably transmitted primarily via water currents (although other vectors may be involved). The degree of susceptibility, signs of disease, rates of progression and mortality vary among coral species, locations and season. SCTLD is a very aggressive coral disease and can have a significant impact on our reef, and as a result the fishing and tourism industries.

We are asking tour operators and their guides to look out for any signs of corals that appear sick, take a picture and send it in messenger to Hol Chan Marine Reserve or via WhatsApp to 672-0227.

Divers are also being asked to kindly decontaminate all dive equipment between dives. Decontamination includes soaking non sensitive dive gear in freshwater containing a small quantity of bleach for 10 mins after each dive, and sensitive equipment wash with mild soap. The third (3rd) link below gives specific guidelines to divers on how to decontaminate dive equipment to reduce the chances of spreading SCTLD to unaffected dive sites.

For more detailed information about the disease, identification, and guidelines for divers please go to the following links:




Dive tours are conducted daily, the more eyes we have assisting with identifying affected areas, and tracking the movements of SCTLD the better we can work to understand it, and effectively respond.

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Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Reported in Belize

The Fisheries Department has confirmed the presence of the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) on the Northern region of the Belize Barrier Reef Complex. SCTLD is a fairly new disease that affects coral reef systems attacking the coral colonies and resulting in loss of live tissue. Infected corals display "blotchy" lesions and high mortality rates. The disease was first reported in Florida in 2014 and more recently in Quintana Roo, Mexico. In June 2019 it was detected and subsequently confirmed in July 2019 at the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve.

The National Coral Reef Monitoring Network (NCRMN), comprised of members from the Belize Fisheries Department (BFD), Belize Audubon Society (BAS), Belize Coastal Zone Management Authority & Institute (CZMAI), Blue Ventures (BV), ECOMAR, Fragments of Hope (FoH), Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative (HRI), Projects Abroad, SIWA-BAN, Southern Environmental Association (SEA), Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE, Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association (TASA), the University of Belize Environmental Research Institute (UB ERI) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), met on July 2nd, 2019 to discuss a way forward to manage this disease. A task force was established to work along with protected areas managers in Northern Belize to determine the extent of the infection along the Northern Barrier Reef Complex and to administer treatment and implement measures to curtail the spread of the disease.

SCTLD is a very aggressive disease and the pathogen that causes the disease has not been identified. However, the disease is thought to be caused by bacteria and can be transmitted to other healthy corals through direct contact and from water circulation. The NCRMN is working along with its partners to develop a probabilistic map for the potential spread of the disease using a high-resolution MAR-Hycom model for water currents and other variables. There is no clear treatment for the disease although interventions using chlorine, antibiotics and sometimes culling have been tested with varying degrees of success.

The NCRMN is asking that all stakeholders especially those interacting with the reef environment remains vigilant in monitoring the spread of this disease and assist by doing the following:

Report suspected cases along with pictures in the disease tracking tool that can be found here: or contact the Fisheries Department at [email protected] or Phone: 2244552.

Keep good buoyancy, refrain from bringing back anything from the infected reef, and sanitize gears before, between and after dives in a bleach solution. A gear rinsing protocol can be found here:�/citizen-participation.html.

To find out more about SCTLD please go to:

For further information please contact The Fisheries Department at [email protected] Phone: 2244552 or the Healthy Reefs Initiative representative at [email protected].

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We are the cause of the disease on the reef
by Colin Hyde for Amandala

It is a wonderful thing when you are faced with a very difficult problem and you find out that you can fix it, just by fixing yourself. The doctor said that all you have to do is get off your stool and do a little exercise. The money manager said all you have to do is fix the leaks in your water system and stop burning lights all night, and you will have sufficient savings to help pay the bank loan for your investment in a new project.

By now we've all seen the terrifying reports about the disease that is affecting coral in a way scientists say they've never seen. Cassie Martin, in the story "A mysterious coral disease is ravaging Caribbean reefs", in the magazine, Science News, says the disease is "moving faster and killing more corals than any disease before."

Martin says scientists are not sure what is causing the disease, but the prime suspect is stony coral tissue loss disease, which was discovered off Florida in 2014.

Martin writes: "In the Caribbean, the disease is now ravaging about a third of the region's 65 reef-building species, scientists estimate. Yet researchers aren't even sure if the disease is viral, bacterial or some other microbial mix."

Whatever the cause, "it's annihilating whole species," says coral ecologist Marilyn Brandt, who is leading a science team trying to tackle the outbreak from multiple research angles.

"Past outbreaks of other coral diseases near St. Thomas have cut coral cover by up to 50 percent over a year, says Brandt, of the University of the Virgin Islands. But this new disease has done the same amount of damage in half that time - spreading faster and killing more corals than any past outbreaks in the area. It marches along the reef and rarely leaves corals behind," Brandt says, "We're pretty scared."

Scientists have found some success by treating wounded corals with a disinfectant/antibiotic paste, but the report says "the medicine doesn't stop new lesions from popping up." The response to the antibiotic treatment leads scientists to believe that the primary disease-causing agent is bacteria.

A map Martin reproduced shows that three of the areas that have been worst hit by the disease are off the coast of Florida, off the east coast of Mexico (Yucatan), and Jamaica. These areas have in common that they are densely populated land masses and are high tourism areas.

Martin says that the "race to learn more about stony coral tissue loss disease and other infections is becoming urgent as climate change warms ocean waters. Global warming is like a one-two punch for coral disease: Heat stress and bleaching may weaken coral defenses, while warming waters send pathogens into overdrive. Pollution, overfishing and other environmental factors can also stress corals, giving pathogens an in."

A July 15, 2019 story out of Florida Atlantic University, "Thirty years of unique data reveal what's really killing coral reefs", pins the blame on a warming planet, AND "a planet that is simultaneously being enriched with reactive nitrogen from sources like improperly treated sewage, and fertilizers."

The story says that "improperly treated sewage, fertilizers and top soil are elevating nitrogen levels, which are causing phosphorus starvation in the corals, reducing their temperature threshold for 'bleaching.' These coral reefs were dying off long before they were impacted by rising water temperatures."

One of the study's authors, James W. Porter, Ph.D., emeritus professor of ecology at the University of Georgia, wrote: "Citing climate change as the exclusive cause of coral reef demise worldwide misses the critical point that water quality plays a role, too. While there is little that communities living near coral reefs can do to stop global warming, there is a lot they can do to reduce nitrogen runoff. Our study shows that the fight to preserve coral reefs requires local, not just global, action."

So, Belize, what are we going to do about it? Some people might have preferred to read that the problem is a disease and hopefully it will go just away. The truth is that there are things we are doing to the reef, things we are allowing to happen, and these things are weakening the corals, making them susceptible to various deadly pathogens, including the most recent one that is causing such panic in our area.

A vibrant, alive coral reef is something to die for, and we have the solution in our hands.

How many agricultural enterprises are observing the 66-feet rule? The National Lands Act calls for 66 feet of riparian forest to be left on the banks of rivers and streams. This 66-foot wide strip served when travel by river was common, so that landowners couldn't block the access of travelers along the riverbank, but it also serves to protect the riverbanks and creek banks from collapsing. Riparian forests are very fertile, and when the rule is not enforced farmers are tempted to cut down the trees and plant in these areas.

This 66-foot wide strip works as an effective buffer, trapping fertilizers and pesticides and top soil so they don't get into the rivers and streams. When fertilizers and pesticides are trapped in the buffers there is more time for these chemicals to be broken down into less harmful substances, and the top soil is held by the trees on the riverbank instead of going into the river, to be carried in the floods to the sea, and out to the reef.

What are we doing with the tons of waste water we produce daily when we wash clothing and kitchen utensils, especially in urban areas? Grey water is not a problem in the countryside, because out there it I is used by plants and it breaks down in the earth, but it becomes a pollutant if it enters the sea and rivers. Some countries treat grey water that is likely to reach and pollute the sea. What are we doing in Belize?

How much untreated fecal waste is finding its way out to sea every day? If this kind of waste is not properly treated before it enters the sea, the different pathogens and parasites therein find their way to our reef.

Who is monitoring those great ships that are coming to our shores, to ensure that they don't dump any of the ugly stuff in their bilges into our beautiful sea? In some countries in the world they can get away with dumping ugly things in the sea because they have mostly dead waters, but our waters are alive, rich with life, and the life forms we treasure don't do well when they encounter waste from our households, and chemicals, and silt.

We banded together to get a moratorium on oil drilling on our reef. There were a few who pressed for exploration for black gold in our prized coral beds, but they were turned back. We saw what happened with that massive leakage of oil in the Gulf of Mexico that was caused by an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in 2010.

Dr. Jeremy Jackson, a marine ecologist who led a team of researchers on a study (for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute) to find out the effects of an oil spill off the coast of Panama in 1986, said that what they learned, "in a nutshell, was never, ever, ever, ever allow oil to get into a complex coastal system of mangroves, sea grasses, and coral reefs because you'll never get it out."

We are the proud custodians of the second largest barrier reef in the world, and some time back we glowed about how alive our reef was. For some time it hasn't been as alive as it was fifty years ago, and now a deadly disease has invaded that could reduce our beautiful coral to dead sand.

A very wise man said that we don't inherit the earth from our ancestors, that we borrow it from our children. What kind of reef will our children and grandchildren have when it is their turn to roam the seas? Will there be plentiful fishes in the sea for them to catch, lobsters to trap, conch to dive? We are destroying the coral reef because we are ignoring the things we have to do to protect this incredible resource. We are the cause of the disease that is killing it.

Our state must pass and enforce laws that preserve this precious resource that our ancestors borrowed from us and we are borrowing from our children. Individually we are weak. We will be tempted to cut corners, for expediency, to maximize immediate profits. Collectively we are strong. The state must ensure that we are not the cause of the disease that endangers our fabulous reef.

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The Coral Killer Comes to Belize, What Can Be Done About It?

In July, the Fisheries Department sent out a release alerting the country to a new disease affecting corals in this region. It's called Stoney Coral Tissue Loss Disease and it's killing corals in the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve -which is the only area where it has been detected so far in Belize.

Well, the Fisheries Department along with its NGO partners have been busy trying to get a hold of this disease by researching and testing different treatment options. Cameraman Codie Norales and I tagged along with the coral reef monitoring task force on an expedition to Bacalar Chico Marine reserve to see first-hand the damage this disease is causing, and what the team is doing to try and prevent it from spreading. Here is that special feature on what can only be described as the most detrimental coral disease this region has seen:

About 28 miles from San Pedro on the Northern tip of Ambergris Caye is the Bacalar Chico Marine reserve. This snaking waterway is called the Bacalar Chico canal and it's a slow, calm boat ride between lush mangrove fringes. And, from this lazy backwater, it goes to wide open sea.

Now while the waters shimmer on the surface that is not the case down below. This is a dead brain coral; it is only one of many brain corals in five different areas of the Bacalar Chico Marine reserve that have what is called Stony Coral Tissue Loss disease or SCTLD for short.

It is also taking over pillar corals such as this one and star corals.

This deadly disease was first spotted in Florida in 2014 and since then it has affected nearly half of their stony coral species on the Florida Reef Tract. There are more questions than answers as to the origin and cause of this disease, but what is clear is that it is the most devastating disease affecting corals in this region right now.

It has already spread to countries in the Caribbean but it only became a major concern for Belize when it struck the adjoining reef system in Xcalak, Mexico.  And in late June, the alarm was sounded when it was detected in the Bacalar Chico Marine reserve. Fortunately, it has not been found in any other area in Belize - so far.

Andreina Acosta - Science Officer, Blue Ventures
"Blue Ventures does work in Bacalar Chico and Xcalak is the neighbouring Mexican village so this was very alarming for us so we started to keep an eye out on the corals. So we went out on a survey one day, I was leading that dive and that was about a month ago. I was leading the dive and I was noticing very alarming changes in the reef because I was not out here for about two months and since I am the one more accustomed to looking at the corals I noticed that something was wrong so I kept swimming and thought maybe it is just bleaching, the common stuff that we observe and then I saw like lots of corals dying and declining and I was like what is wrong? So I took some pictures and I sent it to my country manager, and she is the one who made all the contacts to other organizations and a few days afterwards it was confirmed it's like the disease right here."

It's here, all right and SCTLD is killing the corals by eating away at the tissue and leaving the bare skeleton behind. There is no hope for regeneration once the disease has completely taken over the colony.

There is a pronounced difference between healthy corals and infected ones. These are healthy corals, they have depth in colour, but they lose that when they have the disease.

Nicole Craig - Healthy Reefs for Health People
"When a colony is infected with stony coral tissue loss disease, the first thing you would look for is called a lesion which is a somewhat circular patch on a colony that you can clearly see the skeleton beneath it and also the tissue that is beginning to slough or slide off if you would wave your hands over it gently and use the water to make a current over it you would see the flesh kind of moving in the water and you would know it should be very much attached to it and very much a part of a live coral."

Now since the disease was identified in Belize, the Fisheries Department has had several meetings with all its NGO partners. They have been researching, collaborating with marine biologists and experts from Florida and the Caribbean to find out more about this disease. But there are no clear-cut answers.

Alicia Eck-Nunez - Marine Reserves Operations Manager, Fisheries Department
"The thing is it is not a definitive, what causes it that is what the research is showing we know it is a bacterial pathogen, research has shown a combination of things, it could be more than one bacteria, it could be another disease combined with a bacteria, we know it is water-borne, we know it is carried by the currents and we know it is carried by one site to the next by direct contact."

But given the aggressiveness and severity of this disease, authorities must take swift action. It took a collaborative effort to come up with a temporary experimental treatment that would have the least harmful effects on the marine environment.

Alicia Eck-Nunez
"We came up with three types of treatments, one would be the chlorine we are using, antibiotics and culling, we suggested and recommended to the fisheries administrator to do the shea butter and chlorine because that at the time seemed to be the best choice for us."

And that's this mixture. The chlorine powder is added to natural shea butter and then it is mixed until it has the right consistency. Then, a slab of clay is flattened into a tortilla shape and it is used as a base to coat the infected corals so the paste does not dissolve.

The treatment is then taken out to sea.

A team of marine biologists and conservation scientists is gearing up for a shallow dive in the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve. They are going to collect footage and treat the hard-coral colonies that are affected by the stony coral tissue loss disease. About 30 percent of corals in this area have been infected by this disease. The team hopes to contain this disease by applying and monitoring a DIY (Do it yourself) past every two weeks.

As the team hit the water, they carried the chlorine and shea butter paste in a syringe, and the clay formation near the affected site.

The paste is then poured unto the flat clay surface.

The treatment is then quickly carried under the water and placed over the lesions on the tagged corals. Now, since this treatment was first applied in July there haven't been any improvements, but according to Fisheries Marine Reserves Operations Manager Alicia Eck- Nunez, it is too early to write it off as ineffective.

Alicia Eck-Nunez
"We are still running the testing so we would have to wait a little bit longer to do a second assessment on all the areas to see if we were successful or what percentage of the corals had success."

So the research and testing continues to identify the cause and best long term treatment for this lethal disease. The hope is that this disease does not spread to the entire reserve or worse, to other parts of the country that's an outcome too tragic to contemplate with life altering effects on the reef, the livelihoods of those living in coastal communities, fishers and the tourism industry. But it is a frightening and very real possibility, and that the team needs to urgently prepare for.

The National Coral Reef Monitoring Network will meet on September 11th to discuss national surveys and scaling up treatment methods. 

Florida's Fight Against Stoney Coral Tissue Loss Disease

So as you heard in the story, the disease was first detected in Florida in 2014 and since then, marine experts there have been researching and conducting lab tests, among many other interventions. But, still, they don't have any concrete answers either. 

We got an interview with the Director of the Smithsonian Marine Station in Florida, Valerie Paul. She also manages the Carrie Bow Cay field station which is located on an island on the reef in Belize. Paul discussed some of the efforts that have been tried in Florida to better understand this disease, but also underscored how little is still known about this outbreak.

Valerie Paul - Director, Smithsonian Marine Station, Florida
"One of the things we have been doing in Florida in our laboratory is trying to develop probiotics, those are bacteria that are beneficial, you may have heard of probiotics in yogurt to aid in digestion and restore beneficial bacteria in human to our digestive system but we are trying a similar approach in the corals by treating them with beneficial bacteria that might produce antibiotics on their own that can help fight off the infection so in the lab we are having some good success with that we are hoping to try some of those interventions in the field as well."

"We don't really understand the spread because it jumped from Florida to Mexico but also some other countries at the same time like the US Virgin Islands, the spread does not seem to be explained very well by current patterns, we are worried that maybe shipping through ballast water or bio-films on the hull of ships or other means might be contributing to the spread, we really don't know at all what is going on so this is a bit of a concern because we don't know where it is going to spread next. The good news is that not all the, even within some of the coral species that get the disease not all individual corals will succumb, some we have been able to see have been able to fight off the disease and recover some of the large boulder corals can do that."

According to Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary website, the disease is affecting corals in Florida, Mexico, Belize, the Dominican Republic, and the US Virgin Islands. It is also suspected to be in Jamaica. Again, the cause and pattern of spreading is unclear at this time. 

What Can You Do to Contain The Coral Killer?

Although not much is known about stony coral tissue loss disease, it is still important to monitor it and prevent it from spreading. Nunez from the fisheries department discussed how you can help in this effort.

Alicia Eck-Nunez - Marine Reserves Operations Manager, Fisheries Department
"We contacted our partners at the Ministry of Tourism who then contacted BTB and other partners with the education and outreach materials asking all our stakeholders that come in contact with the reef environment to please if you see the disease go the website, report the disease, if you can take pictures of it to send to us we need to know if it is already spreading to the rest of the country so we could respond. We also ask everybody that goes diving to please maintain your buoyancy, don't take back anything from the reef meaning trash, you know don't take back anything from the reef and if you must take back trash put it in a sealed bag and take it back with you, we also ask that you rinse your gears before, during in between dives and after dives."

If you go diving and snorkeling anywhere in the country, be on the alert for this infected corals and snap a picture if you can, but DO NOT break off a piece of the corals, just take a picture and send it to the fisheries department. Their email is [email protected] or you can call the office at 224-4552. 

You can also contact SEA or Fragments of Hope, the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Healthy Reefs for Healthy People if you want to provide any additional information. We will keep following this story. 

Channel 7

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The reef plague

The building blocks of the undersea infrastructure are being decimated by a mysterious plague. And no one is sure how to stop it.

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. "I have never seen anything that affects so many species, so quickly and so viciously - and it just continues," said Marilyn Brandt of the University of the Virgin Islands, who is one of the researchers involved in the efforts to save the reefs near St. Thomas.

Click here to read the rest of the article in Reuters

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Reefs Under Attack - What's The Solution to Stony Coral?

There must be a regional emergency plan to address the threat of stony coral tissue loss disease: that was the position and consensus coming out of day 2 of a 4 day intensive regional meeting on this disease.

In late August, we showed you a full feature on Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease or SCTLD for short.

To recap, it was first detected in Florida in 2014 and it has wiped out almost half of their coral species on the Florida Reef Tract. Then in late June, it was confirmed here in Belize, in the Bacalar Chico marine reserve. It is spreading and mercilessly killing the corals.

That is terrible news because this lethal disease affects hard corals which are fundamental in reef building and health. The disease is waterborne and aside from Belize, it is affecting corals in Mexico, Jamaica, US Virgin Islands among others. So those are the facts that have been established. But there is so much more to be learned about this disease and today's session was a step towards getting some answers. Courtney Weatherburne has more from the meeting at the Biltmore.

Courtney Weatherburne reporting
Stony coral tissue loss disease is an urgent national issue. This disease is killing corals in the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and it is spreading quickly to other areas.

Beverly Wade, Administrator, Belize Fisheries Department
"It was in Rocky point and now we have detected it and we have confirmed it in the Basil Jones area which is south of the Rocky Point area. And we are looking at it very vigilantly because the next stop for us would be the Hol Chan marine reserve and I don't have to say what the implications there can be, like I said it is a matter of extreme importance."

And it is so for the Caribbean and MAR countries as well. The Mesoamerican Reef Fund organized a regional meeting where all the environmental stakeholders from Belize, Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras can share their research and findings in tackling this disease.

Beverly Wade, Administrator, Belize Fisheries Department
"The meeting that is being held today is really to look at the Mesoamerican reef system, it's health and management but in particular as it relates to the approach to SCTLD."

"What we tried to do today is to bring together experts and on the ground practitioners and researchers who are now looking at the disease to help countries like Belize and themselves on what is the best approach, what is the best prescription in dealing with a disease such as this one."

There are many coral treatment options including the shea butter and chlorine paste that Belize is currently experimenting with but this treatment does not seem to be working. Coral restoration, on the other hand, is a viable option that has been producing promising results. Belize has been at the forefront of this approach. The main aim is to ensure that the healthy coral species continue to flourish.

Lisa Carne, Director & Founder Fragments of Hope
"All of our work has always been what we call "in situ" meaning in the field or in water, so there is no artificial tanks, nothing, all nature based, all in the water. And even recently we began stepping up the process whereby they don't need nursery time, a process that is called micro fragmenting so you use a special diamond blade saw and you cut the corals a certain size and that invigorates them to grow a little faster. And we have found with certain species we can bypass the nursery stage and outplant directly on the reef and we are getting great results with that."

For about a year, Mexican experts have also been conducting tests with a more scientific method.

Claudia Padilla, Researcher, National Fisheries Institute, Mexico
"We are trying some experiments, some trials, we rescue, we take a small living tissue from a diseased colony and we put it in our tanks in controlled conditions with good water quality and lights and vitamins, we take care of them and they respond very well, they don't present the disease in the tanks that is a good result."

But still, this option does not stop the disease from spreading. One of the most successful treatments so far is the application of antibiotics.

Emma Doyle, Coordinator, MPA Connect Network
"Some of the experience from the Florida specialist has been that they advise to treat as quickly and aggressively as possible using the treatments that are very topical and do involve some antibiotic treatment. Now this is very specific treatment and only done by specialists, it is a very small scale treatment in the field but that has been stopping and helping holt the disease in some of the corals so that has been effective."

But it is not that simple:

Beverly Wade, Administrator, Belize Fisheries Department
"It is something that we have to look at and as I said we have to look at it also carefully, the issue is that we also have to consider the introduction of antibiotics in the natural system. As I said it is a matter of now looking at the experiences of those areas that have been looking at it to see what information they can share with us so that we can ensure that our strategy is informed by the best available science and information which exists."

That is really the ultimate hope, in spite of the aggressiveness and severity of this disease.

Lisa Carne, Director & Founder Fragments of Hope
"It is pretty frightening, in Mexico they have lost basically half their reef in a short period of time it affects over 20 species and in the Caribbean we only have about 70 coral species so it could eventually be catastrophic but as I mentioned, we want to stay optimistic and try to see where we can try to find more solutions and the good news is that Belize, we still have a very small population here so compared to Mexico or the DR where they have a much higher impact on water quality, they have a lot more people, they have a lot more development, their reefs are closer to shore. We have some physical advantages."

The UB-chaired Belize Coral Reef Monitoring Network will meet after the series of meetings to gather all that was shared at the meeting to determine the next step.

Channel 7

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On the Mesoamerican Reef Health and Management: Responding to the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease meeting held in Belize City with 60 local, regional and international participants.

In recent years, the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease has reported in the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and the spread of this disease does not seem to be slowing down.

Earlier this week, Mesoamerican Reef Fund -MAR Fund- and other partners joined forces to discuss how we plan to move forward in light of this very real threat to the health of our marine resources.

Thanks to the Mesoamerican Reef Fund -MAR Fund- and all the partners and donors for making this crucial event possible to plan for our reefs' future.

Channel 5 Belize's Andrea Polanco did an excellent piece on this issue - take a look!

San Pedro Sun: Coral tissue loss disease threatens Belize's Barrier Reef
To find a solution and work out a strategic plan, Belize's foremost marine biologists and researchers gathered with their counterparts of the three other countries which host parts of the 1,000 kilometer long Meso-American Reef (MAR), for the second biennial meeting of the Reef Restoration Network for the MAR region, at the Best Western Biltmore Plaza Hotel in Belize City from Tuesday October 8th to Thursday October 10th. Foremost on the agenda was the development of a MAR regional plan for reef restoration, encouraging complementary efforts to target resources needed to put the plan into effect. The stony coral tissue loss disease first appeared in Florida USA in 2014 and is lethal to over 20 different species of coral, particularly the pillar, star and starlet, and brain corals.

San Pedro Sun: No cure for new coral disease infecting the Belize Barrier Reef System
The health of the Belize Barrier Reef System is becoming more than a priority for the environmentalist community as Belize's reef is under attack by a disease called 'Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease.' The disease is new, and researchers and scientists are still trying to find out what causes it and how to properly treat it. Local biologists teamed up with international counterparts and applied a treatment composed of chorine and shea butter to the affected coral, but after several weeks, they claim the method is not working and are seeking other forms of treatment before the disease spreads to other areas along the Belizean coast. The treatment applied at Bacalar Chico was applied in the form of a paste to the affected areas of the coral to decrease or eliminate the infection. Unfortunately, the remedy was unsuccessful, and biologists in Belize plan to explore another form of method used in Florida.

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease hits Belize

Since first being detected in 2014 in Florida, the Caribbean has observed the gradual and unstoppable spread of the, Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, reaching as far east as the island of Saint Martin. Last year the disease reached the southern reefs off the coast of Yucatan.

This year, the Belize Fisheries Department and Blue Ventures personnel reported high rates of infection and mortality of coral colonies in the northern part of the Belize Barrier Reef within the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve.

Resource managers, including marine protected areas managers, are on the lookout for the occurrence of this coral disease that causes tissue loss. The disease leads to high mortality of the 20 hard coral species that are susceptible to the disease, including brain corals.

So far, the branching Acroporid corals seem not to be resistant to the disease. This disease pathogen has not been identified and scientists continue to work to isolate and identify the pathogen. Various treatments are being tested and it is hoped that the pathogen can be identified and a safe and effective treatment can be found.

The progression of the disease has proven to be very rapid and what took over a century to grow, an entire colony, can be completely dead in 15 days to a month. It is believed that the disease is water-borne. Currently, the National Coral Reef Monitoring Network (NCRMN), network of MPA Mangers, Environmental Resource Institute, (ERI), conservation NGO's and the Belize Fisheries Department continue to track the spread of the disease and have formulated a response plan that is focussed on detecting the occurrence, and testing treatments.

Coral reef scientist and climate change specialist, Nadia Bood, of World Wildlife Fund in Belize, noted that this disease adds to pressures already being experienced by the coral reef in Belize from climate change. Alerts were sent out in September and October for Belize to look out for bleaching due to high surface water temperatures.

Bood said "We will need the involvement of all stakeholders, especially fishers and marine tour guides and operators, to assist the Belize Fisheries Department in reporting signs of bleaching and disease."

Bood also urged the private sectors that benefit from the coral reefs ecosystem services, including resorts and property owners on the cayes and along the coast, to incorporate zero-effluent standards and closed sewage systems into their construction. Poor water quality as a result of run-off and sewage leaching has been linked to the spread of other coral reef diseases, since it weakens the health of coral colonies, making them susceptible to disease.

"Ecosystem-based adaptation provides a golden opportunity for countries like Belize to cost-effectively adapt to these harsh changes in the environment using ecosystems such as coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass. This approach benefits multiple stakeholder sectors, including tourism and fisheries, but also affords coastal protection from other potential threats such as storms."


"White syndrome" even more catastrophic than sargassum in Quintana Roo
"In the short term, the white syndrome could be more catastrophic than the effects of sargassum in terms of economic losses. but especially when it comes to the death of marine animal species", said marine biologist Nallely Hern�ndez Palacios, deputy director of the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (Conanp) in the state of Quintana Roo. She argued that in both cases the marine ecosystem suffers a high degree of degradation: the syndrome is exclusive to corals, while the sargassum reaches seagrasses and mangroves; in addition, when leachate reaches land, it affects the underground system, and then returns to sea, which contributes to strengthen the coral disease. The expert said that they are already isolating coral colonies in the United States, to be sown after they find the cure against the disease that is killing the reefs of Quintana Roo. The coral reefs are a vital part of the 9.5 billion US dollars per year economic spill, for tourism related activities in the region. "In three months the white syndrome has killed 90 percent of the coral colonies within Isla Contoy National Park, where the Mesoamerican Reef System (Sistema Arrecifal Mesoamericano) begins, covering more than one thousand kilometers along the coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras," said marine biologist Wilberto Antele Sangabriel, one the National park's keepers.

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Below Caribbean waves, 'a huge disaster': Stony coral tissue loss disease attacks reefs

A malady called stony coral tissue loss disease has been raging since 2014 through reefs under the deceptively calm blue paradise of the Caribbean.

In five years, it has wreaked devastation on the fragile coral ecosystems that are at risk of extinction from the effects of climate change.

The disease has ravaged the entire Atlantic reef off Florida, spread across parts of the Caribbean and has recently been reported near Belize in Central America.

"It is a huge disaster that's going on underneath the waves," says Karen Neely, a coral ecologist at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. "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."

More in the Washington Post

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The Fisheries Department - Belize has confirmed that the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease is now present in the central Belize reef region, and it may have extended to Goff's Caye.

Stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) is a new lethal disease first reported in Florida in 2014. The cause of the disease is unknown but it is affecting >30 species of corals especially brain, pillar, star, and starlet corals. The disease spreads quickly causing high coral mortality.

For further details on SCTLD please visit the link provided below. As well, kindly assist us in taking photos and reporting any possible site that could be infected to and The Belize Fisheries Department

[Linked Image]

[Linked Image]

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