Florida's coral reef is one of the great tourist attractions in the entire state, but a mysterious disease is threatening its very existence.
What Is Happening To The Coral Reef In Florida?
A new unknown disease is destroying the 360-mile-long coral reef off of Florida's east coast. It is the third largest coral reef in the world.
Scientists say that the coral reef first came in contact with the disease four years ago. For brain and star coral, which make up roughly half of the coral in the area, the disease has fatal consequences.
"This is essentially equivalent to a local extinction, an ecological extirpation of these species locally," said scientist William Precht to NPR. "And when you go out and swim on the reefs of Miami-Dade County today, it would be a very rare chance encounter that you'd see some of these three or four species."
Some scientists believe that this is a bacterial disease, but there is no certainty yet. The disease causes necrosis of the coral tissue.
In August 2017, the FWC Fish and Wildlife Foundation published a YouTube video showing Hen and Chickens Reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. As a result of the disease, the corals in the video are mostly white and dead.
"When they're affected by this, the tissue sloughs off the skeleton," Erinn Muller, science director with Mote Marine Lab's Center for Coral Reef Research and Restoration, told NPR. "And we see that once a coral is infected, it usually kills the entire coral, sometimes within weeks. And it doesn't seem to stop."
What Is Causing The Disease To Spread?
While scientists are still trying to pinpoint the exact cause of the disease, they do know that the ocean currents are exacerbating the problem. The currents moved the disease north in Florida, and now they are moving it south.
Coral bleaching has also weakened them. Warmer waters from climate change cause them to expel their symbiotic algae living in their tissues. This turns the corals white. Corals can survive this, but it leaves them under stress and vulnerable to other diseases.
After four years, many corals have died. This also means that there are fewer species that can reproduce and rebuild the population.
Solutions For The Disease In Florida's Coral Reel
Scientists are starting to take action against the disease. Researchers are looking at DNA samples to figure out what is causing the disease, and if it is bacterial in nature. If it is bacterial, there might be an antibiotic that could stop it. Scientists are also looking at antiseptics to stop the spread of it.
As an alternative, some researchers are raising corals outside of the ocean and in labs. Once the corals are healthy, they will be transported back to the reefs.