Perhaps it is one of the rarest medical treatments in recent times. Two years ago, South Florida researchers dived under the waves to find out what was happening and applied antibiotic goop. This helped thousands of coral colonies become infected.
These efforts form part of an extraordinary collaboration between conservation groups, biologists and researchers, many federal and state agencies, Disney, Smithsonian and Disney aquariums across the country, special force veterans, citizen scientists, and volunteer divers to save America’s only barrier reef.
Florida’s coral reefs face serious threats. The Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, also known as SCTLD, has been ravaging Florida Reef Tract’s 225-mile stretch, north of Miami, to Key West for seven years at a pace that shocked conservationists. A large, well-known colony of Mountainous Star Corals, called “Big Momma”, was killed by the disease. This coral had survived more than 330 years of industrialization and hurricanes. The disease has since been discovered in 19 more Caribbean countries.
Florida’s reefs were already suffering due to over 40 years of environmental stress. The worst time was now.
Mike Goldberg (Owner of Key Dives), a charter dive company in Islamorada Florida states that “if you take the Atlantic Caribbean, the Keys were at the pinnacle.” When it came coral, the Keys had the largest variety and volume of fish life. Having made over 10,000 dives in various places around the world and in the Caribbean—lived there for about 14 years—there was really nothing that compared.”
A 1962 National GeographicThe magazine’s cover story is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (the first ever) Underwater color coversIn fact, the area was filled with hard corals.
SCTLD came in to save 97% of the historical reefs that were already gone. Scientists feared that the new threat might cause irreparable damage to once-magnificent ecosystems.
Now, there is preliminary evidence that antibiotics are able to save the corals most valuable. An impressive restoration effort has begun to breed corals and place them back on the reefs where their former glory days. It is tragic that Florida’s reefs are declining. But, if current efforts can reverse this trend, they will be among the most significant and innovative public-private environmental success stories in American history.
How to Treat Sick Corals
Erin Schilling is a Florida Atlantic University researcher. She recently returned from Dry Tortugas National Park on the extreme southwestern tip of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Dry Tortugas, the last place in Florida Reef Tract to be affected by SCTLD, was hoped that would stay untouched. The disease did eventually spread. ArrivedThis June
Scientists still don’t know exactly what SCTLD is—a virus or a bacterial infection or possibly a combination of both—or even how it spreads. The disease is such a threat because it targets slow-growing stony corals—boulder-shaped species such as star and brain corals. They are responsible for the creation of 3D structures which shelter and support different species. SCTLD is not like other coral diseases, which have plagued Florida reefs. It doesn’t seem to change seasonally and has an 80-100 percent mortality rate for its 20 affected species. A white streak appears on corals and spreads quickly, often in weeks. It leaves behind a skeleton.
Schilling and her fellow research divers have treated 6,050 corals at Dry Tortugas using antibiotic paste. This protected them against SCTLD.
Schilling was published Do some researchThis April showed positive results in the treatment of Great Star Coral colonies using amoxicillin. She says, “It is very successful in treating individual lesions,” which are basically spots on corals that have lost tissue.
Karen Neely, a researcher at Nova Southeastern University, published a paper More researchAmoxicillin has also been shown to be effective in treating repeat and long-term infections, according to this august report.
“In my research, we treated them only once and found that the disease could return. [Neely]Schilling claims that Schilling has been able even to demonstrate the ability to heal patients after just a few treatments.”
In 2019, scientists began to use antibiotics to slow down the spread of the disease across coral reefs. Although it was risky because they weren’t sure what the side effects would be on corals and other wildlife nearby, the alternative result was obvious.
Shilling states, “If we don’t do anything, corals will continue to die.” Shilling says, “This is a serious enough problem that we need to take a very drastic approach.” This should work for those areas with the disease in its early stages. It can help in places where reefs aren’t as affected if we continue to understand how it works.
Also, the results of not doing anything would have disastrous consequences for Florida Keys’ tourism-dependent economy. Millions visit the Keys annually to experience world-class fishing and scuba dive. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates that the southeast Florida reefs are worth $8.5 billion and provide 70,000 jobs. This barrier reef also serves to protect the Keys from major storms and hurricanes, as it absorbs waves that could otherwise hit low-lying island.
Manually applying goop to corals underwater is a labor-intensive and costly method. However, it is a last-ditch solution.
Andy Bruckner is the research coordinator for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.The goal of the project is to preserve the best corals from a reproductive standpoint and decrease the number of pathogens in water.
Bruckner states that “the interventions at the moment are very challenging.” He also says that “we know we cannot save whole reefs doing this, so we need to take a holistic approach.”
Noah’s Ark: Corals
Conservationists didn’t have the luxury of using antibiotics before.
Although they started with just day trips, the disease spread so quickly that the team switched to live-aboard vessels, which allowed them to stay on the water for multiple days collecting corals.
Problem was, they didn’t know where to put thousands upon thousands of live coral. The Rescue Team reached out the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to rescue the corals.
“The harsh reality is that, if the Rescue Team can’t fully develop and execute a Rescue Plan within very brief time frames, then one third of all coral species found in Florida will be ecologically extinct,” Gil McRae (Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute) warned. As perTo The Washington Post
Before the epidemic, one species of pillar coral was in danger. “Pilar corals” are currently in declineFunctionally extinctAccording to a May paper published in the journal, the Florida Reef Tract is “in the Florida Reef Tract.” Marine Science FrontiersThe remaining people are far too distant to reproduce.
However, there’s still hope. Scientists at the Tampa Aquarium announced in 2019 their two-year work to stimulate pillar corals spawning in a lab. The first time it has ever been doneCollecting 30,000 larvae of coral and possibly ensuring that the species’ future in Florida waters.
In 20 aquariums in 14 states, there are currently Florida corals. Next is bringing the grandchildren and children of these corals back to the reef.
A lot of glue and an army of volunteers
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for the protection waters within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary’s protected waters, has launched “” in 2019.Mission: Iconic Reefs” A plan over 20 years to save seven of Keys’ most important reefs. This plan will see the growth and outplanting of approximately 500,000 corals. Bruckner describes it as “the most significant restoration effort ever undertaken anywhere on the planet for coral reefs.”
NOAA relies on several nonprofit organizations, including Reef Renewal and Mote Marine Laboratory (CRF) to accomplish the bulk of the work. CRF has large underwater nurseries that house critically endangered elkhorn and staghorn corals. Corals are strung on PVC “trees” which are cleaned regularly by volunteers divers. The corals can be transported to the reefs once they reach the right size.
Coral planting underwater can be difficult and dangerous work. This is especially true when the surge pushes you back and forth. Before applying epoxy, divers use chisels to clean the hardbottom of the ocean before gluing coral together.
The CRF claims that it has successfully replanted more than 130,000 corals onto reefs with the assistance of volunteers divers from all over the globe.
Mike Goldberg is the owner of the dive shop. He also created I.CARE, an organization that specifically works on Islamorada’s coral reefs.
Goldberg explains that “The main reason we were started was not to repair the reef, but because I believed that recreational divers had the greatest workforce,”
Goldberg said that I.CARE volunteers had planted about 2000 corals onto reefs in the past year since January.
Force Blue is another partner in Florida Coral Rescue Project. Force Blue offers special forces combat vets “mission therapy,” which allows them to relax while diving. Since its inception, the National Football League (NFL) has been assisting the Florida Coral Rescue Project. PartnerForce Blue will restore a reef that is the same size as a football for Super LIV and Super Bowl LV.
Although conservationists cannot control water quality or temperature which are two key factors in coral health, they can help give corals some hope. Corals can reproduce asexually by cloning or spawning. They can then be broken up into smaller pieces that can grow into genetically identical colonies. Researchers can use this technique to preserve wild coral specimens and to select those that are resistant to diseases or more tolerant to extreme temperatures. The survivors can be replanted in their natural habitats.
Bruckner stated that this initiative is part of a holistic approach. It also intends to restore “grazer” animals such as king crabs (or spiny Urchins), which consume algae and can overtake slower-growing corals. This role was filled by urchins in Florida Keys. However, in 1980s Florida Keys saw a severe disease that nearly decimated the entire population.
Since coral is slow to grow, restoration efforts will take time and may even require generations of work before they are successful.
Goldberg said that “it’s going to be decades of work, but there will, in mine opinion, come a time when we are successful.”