[Linked Image]There have been a few recent questions concerning the health of the coral at HCMR due to SCTLD. HCMR has never been one to toot its own horn and publicize the work it does, but we realize that this is an area that we really need to improve on. Lack of knowledge often leads people to make uninformed conclusions.

SCTLD was first identified in Belize back in June 2019 up in the Bacalar Chico area. While a new disease inside Belizean water, the disease first appeared back in 2014 in Florida and has impacted most of their reefs, and worked its way down through the Mexico and Caribbean. Anyone interested in seeing the spread can visit the following link: Coral Disease Outbreak - AGRRA . When it first appeared on the Belizean scene HCMR and the Fisheries Department where quick to respond and monitor its spread and start field testing treatment options. Now the best way I can think to describe SCTLD, is it is the equivalent of COVID19 but on the reef. It is highly contagious spreading through water and some research has shown that sediment could affect the rate of transmission (Rosales, et. Al. 2020). Butterflyfishes have also been a suspect in the acceleration of the spread of the disease. While in Florida there has been several treatment trials, everything from clay, chlorine, natural herbs, and antibiotics, nothing has proven 100% effective and the mortality rate for an infected colony is 100%. Reality is, the only way to fully prevent colonies from getting infected is to isolate that colony, which is not possible to do in a fluid environment since water and currents is how it spreads. The pathogen is bacterial but it doesn’t seem to be one specific pathogen and the exact combination that causes the disease is still unknown. Because it is bacterial, there has been some small success with the use of amoxicillin mixed with a carrying agent called CoreRx/Base2B. When applied early it can stop the disease, but it does not prevent reinfection. SCTLD affects most of the hard reef building species. While diseases have impacted corals in the past, SCTLD is unique in the type and number of species affected.

When we first saw it in Bacalar Chico, we knew it was only a matter of time that it would reach HCMR. It’s like watching a hurricane approach and you know there is nothing you can do to stop it. In March 2020, the same day Belize went into lock down, the HCMR team confirmed that the disease had reach Mexico Rocks. This triggered the immediate plan of action for HCMR. A decision was made to prioritize the HCMR Channel because of its tourism value and the hope was that we could treat just that area to save it with the knowledge that we would lose a lot of corals in other areas. In summer of 2020, it was confirmed at the Hol Chan Channel and HCMR was the first to start using antibiotic treatment at the channel. At that time there were 6 jars of Base2B in the country that belonged to the Fisheries Department and HCMR was fortunate enough to have it given to us to treat the disease at the HCMR Channel, we also managed at the height of the pandemic to get the approval from the ministry of health to purchase the quantity of amoxicillin needed. HCMR was the first to begin treatment within Belize. The corals at the channel has been treated and retreated but we quickly realized that we don’t have the quantity of treatment needed in country and it is a daily task to keep retreating as the same corals heal and become infected again. With this realization and knowing we are losing the war, HCMR looked towards coral species not affected by the disease, namely Acroprids (Elkhorn and Staghorn corals) and the using this species to restore areas that we know will be affected by SCTLD. This led to a partnership with Fragments of Hope based in Placencia to establish coral nurseries for Acropra’s that will be used to outplant to affected sites. This is a way to maintain not only the ecological integrity of the reef, but the aesthetic beauty as well. Any one interesting in knowing the details of the restoration program, number of table locations and species in nurseries are welcome to contact our office for details.

HCMR along with Fragments of Hope in December 2020, also rescued Acropora’s from a failed restoration project carried out by another group and out planted these near the HCMR channel.

HCMR has taken the lead along with the Belize Fisheries Department, in partnership with Fragments of Hope, Healthy Reefs Initiative, and the Belize Coral Network. An Action Plan have been developed to address SCTLD. One of the main limitations to treatment in Belize is the cost (although funds have been identified), and the availability of the treatment in country.

We know it is sad to see the condition of the corals at the HCMR channel, for the management HCMR, we knew it was coming, we understand the disease, recognize that it is not something that management could have prevented, and as a result have prepared ourselves the best way we could to be prepared to mitigate the impacts. The next step is to outplant the corals we have had in nurseries for the past year to these priority areas that have been identified.

There are so much more details that could be added to this post that have not been mentioned. There is also other work being done to address SCTLD outside the Reserve. HCMR encourages anyone who wants to know more about what we have been doing and continue to do to address SCTLD please contact our office at 226-2247 or send an email to [email protected] For info of activities at the national level please see the following link: https://my.ltb.io/www/#/.

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Gordon Kirkwood:
SCTLD appears to be present in the reefs in front of Belize City (at South Gallows and Sergeants Caye) but was not seen at South Water Caye or Silk Cayes on recent visits.

Miguel Alamilla:
I snorkeled from Tres cocos to the the San Pedro channel and the damage caused by SCTLD is impressive. I have before and after image of coral patches that clearly illustrate how this disease has decimated our coral reef. Keep working hard my friends at HCMR and best of luck.