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Florida Reef Tract Coral Disease Outbreak

Coral Disease Outbreak Across Florida Reef Tract


Florida’s coral reefs are experiencing a multi-year outbreak of coral disease. While disease outbreaks are not unprecedented, this event is unique due to the number of coral species affected across a large portion of the Florida Reef Tract, and the ongoing nature of the event. The disease outbreak is highly prevalent and is estimated to have resulted in the mortality of millions of corals. In fall 2014, isolated sites with significant coral disease were reported near Key Biscayne in Miami-Dade County by DEP’s Coral Reef Conservation Program staff as well as local scientists. By fall 2015, widespread disease was confirmed across approximately 55 linear miles of reef, including locations as far north as Pompano Beach in Broward County and as far south as Biscayne National Park with a few isolated reports in Palm Beach County. Disease continued to spread north and south into the Florida Keys throughout 2016, and by summer of 2017 reports of widespread disease were confirmed as far north as St. Lucie Inlet in Martin County and to the southern boundary of the upper Keys. In 2018 the disease front reached Looe Key, in the lower Keys (Figure 1).

For a general FAQ involving the disease outbreak, please click here.

For a summarization of the disease and response efforts click here.

Response Efforts

Since 2015, DEP and numerous partners from federal, state and local governments, universities, nongovernmental organizations and the South Florida community have been communicating regularly and working together on a multifaceted response effort to:

  • Document the distribution, prevalence, severity and impacts associated with the disease outbreak;
  • Identify likely pathogens;
  • Understand potentially contributory environmental factors;
  • Experiment with treatments and other interventions;
  • Seek additional capacity and funding to support more comprehensive response efforts; and
  • Facilitating stakeholder assistance by creating a region-wide Reef Ambassador program and maintaining SEAFAN and C-OCEAN citizen science programs.

The exact cause and contributing factors for this event will likely take years to identify; however, addressing other known coral stressors (i.e., water quality, turbidity and sedimentation, etc.) will increase the ability of the corals to recover. For information on how you can help the corals recover, check out our Coral Reef Ambassador Initiative page!

Regional Coordination Calls

To improve communication about the status of the coral disease outbreak and coordination among reef managers, scientists and interested members of the community regarding these response efforts, DEP initiated coordination phone calls in summer 2015. Although initially focused on mainland southeast Florida where the disease outbreak originated, these coordination calls were re-established during summer 2016 to include the entire Florida Reef Tract and are currently ongoing. Follow the links below to review a meeting summary from any of these calls:

Regional Southeast Florida Calls:

Florida Reef Tract-Wide Calls:

Completed Projects




November 2015

Brian Walker and Katelyn Klug

Southeast Florida Large Coral Assessment

June 2016

Esther Peters and Nicole Fogarty

Data collection to assess reef conditions before and during the 2014-2015 coral disease outbreak

June 2017

Brian Walker

Characterize the condition of previously known and newly identified large dense Acropora cervicornis patches in southeast Florida

June 2017

Jeff Maynard, James Byrne, Kristi Kerrigan, Dieter Tracey, Karen Bohnsack, Francisco Pagan, Joanna Walczak, Gareth J. Williams

Coral reef resilience to climate change in the Florida Reef Tract

June 2017

Kathleen Lunz, Jan Landsberg, Yasu Kiryu, and Vanessa Brinkhuis

Investigation of the coral disease outbreak affecting scleractinian coral species along the Florida Reef Tract

June 2018 Karen Neely and Cindy Lewis In-Situ Disease Intervention
June 2018 Karen Neely Ex-Situ Disease Treatment Trials
June 2018 Brian Walker and Alysha Brunelle Southeast Florida Large (>2 meter) Diseased Coral Colony Intervention Summary Report
June 2018 William Sharp and Kerry Maxwell Investigating the Ongoing Coral Disease Outbreak in the Florida Keys: Collecting Corals to Diagnose the Etiological Agent(s) and Establishing Sentinel Sites to Monitor Transmission Rates and the Spatial Progression of the Disease
June 2018 Keri O'Neil, Karen Neely, and Josh Patterson Nursery Management and Treatment of Diseased Pillar Coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus) on the Florida Reef Tract
June 2018 Ian Enochs and Graham Kolodziej Ultraviolet Deactivation of Coral Disease Lesions
June 2018 Karen Neely Surveying the Florida Keys Southern Coral Disease Boundary
June 2018 Brian Walker Southeast Florida Reef-Wide Post-Irma Coral Disease Survey
June 2018 Erinn Muller, Robert van Woesik, and Constance Sartor

Spatial Epidemiology Modeling of the Florida Coral Disease Outbreak

June 2018 Blake Ushijima, Valerie Paul Postdoctoral research in coral pathogen isolation
December 2018 Karen Neely, Emily Hower

In-Situ Disease Intervention (December 2018)

Disease Workshop (July 24-25, 2017)

DEP’s Florida Coastal Office staff partnered with coral disease experts Great Aeby from the University of Hawaii and Blake Ushijima from Oregon State University to deliver a two-day coral disease workshop. Approximately 125 participants representing a variety of agencies, organizations, universities and the South Florida community attended. The workshop included information on coral disease identification, ecology and investigation techniques. To review the workshop material and recordings, please follow the links below:

  1. Coral Disease: Drivers and Management
  2. Coral Ecology and Lesion Identification*
  3. Investigation of Disease Ecology in Florida*
  4. Coral Microbes: Friends or Foes

For 508-Compliant versions, please email

Disease Planning Workshops (November 6-8, 2017)

DEP’s Florida Coastal Office Southeast Region collaborated with staff from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to lead a three-day coral disease workshop to discuss the next phase of coral disease response efforts. Made possible by funds appropriated by the Florida Legislature and Governor Scott, the workshop was attended by approximately 40 participants, including leading coral disease scientists and animal health experts. To review the summaries and objectives from these workshops, please see below and click on the following links:

Intervention Methodologies Workshop: November 6, 2017

Objectives: (1) Discuss coral disease intervention and treatment methodologies, and identify the constraints that may limit them from application. (2) Collaborate with animal health experts regarding additional data needs or other strategies to proceed with interventions within the current regulatory framework.

Priority Sampling Plan Workshop: November 7-8, 2017

Objectives: (1) Create a Florida Reef Tract-wide coral disease priority sampling plan, to include both single event biological collections and fixed station assessment. (2) Develop a plan for how existing and future samples should be analyzed across all disciplines and identify labs/personnel with the expertise to complete those analyses.

Have you observed coral disease on the Florida Reef Tract?

Report coral disease observations anywhere in Florida to SEAFAN:

If you want to learn more about this coral disease outbreak, please follow this link for a full detailed summary.

Last Modified:
March 4, 2019 - 1:29pm

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