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Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Response

Overview of the Disease Outbreak 

The Florida Reef Tract has been experiencing an outbreak of a coral disease termed Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD). First reported off the coast of Miami-Dade County in 2014, this outbreak has spread along Florida and to reefs in the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Mexico, St. Maarten, the US Virgin Islands, and the Dominican Republic. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is working with dozens of partners from federal, state, and local agencies, non-governmental organizations, universities, and members of the community to investigate and solve this problem.

Map graphic updated September 18, 2019.

Key factors of the outbreak include:

  • Large geographic range. Over half of the Florida Reef Tract has been affected – over 96,000 acres.
  • Duration of the outbreak. Disease has continued to spread for more than three years.
  • Number of coral species affected. 20+ of approximately 45 species of Florida’s reef-building corals have been affected. This includes five species listed pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. 
  • Significantly high prevalence. Within certain species, disease is seen in 66-100 out of every 100 colonies surveyed.
  • High rates of disease transmission and mortality. Once a coral begins to lose living tissue, observations show that the colony will die within weeks to months.

For a more in-depth understanding of stony coral tissue loss disease in Florida, refer to the technical case definition (updated October 2018). 


Coordinated Response Effort

Approximately $5 million has been allocated by the Florida State Legislature, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other sources to support disease response efforts in FY 19-20. Priority coral disease response activities include

Priority coral disease response activities include:

  • Coral disease surveys and fixed site monitoring to document the spatial extent, mortality rates and species-specific impacts.
  • Strategic sampling and laboratory analysis to identify the presence of pathogens potentially responsible for the disease outbreak.
  • Data management and epidemiological analysis to analyze relevant datasets and determine what factors may influence disease progression.
  • Intervention experiments and field trials to assess the effectiveness of treatment techniques and prevent the further spread of disease.
  • Coral rescue efforts to preserve some of the remaining genetic diversity in land-based facilities for future restoration efforts. 
  • Restoration trials to determine where we can outplant new corals.
  • Caribbean-wide cooperation including means to limit further spread. 
  • Improve overall coral reef environmental conditions to ensure that disease intervention and restoration actions are successful.

Since 2015, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and numerous partners have been collaborating on a multifaceted response effort. Click here to read notes from coordination calls, workshops and the final reports from all completed projects.


In addition to a Steering Committee, there are currently nine teams coordinating the greater response effort: 

  1. Research and Epidemiology

  2. Reconnaissance & Intervention Team

  3. Coral Rescue

  4. Coral Propagation 

  5. Restoration Trials

  6. Data Management

  7. Regulatory

  8. Communications and Outreach

  9. Caribbean Cooperation


Citizen Engagement Opportunities

The exact cause and contributing factors for this outbreak will likely take years to identify; however, addressing other known coral stressors (such as water quality, turbidity, and sedimentation) will increase the ability of the corals to recover. We can all do our part to increase the resilience of our coral reefs.

Report diseased AND healthy corals to SEAFAN - The Southeast Florida Action Network. These SEAFAN reports help the DEP Coral Reef Conservation Program monitor current conditions on the reefs. Reports of healthy corals are just as important as reports of diseased corals!

If you saw a tagged coral in the Florida Keys, submit a photo of it using the SCTLD Citizen Science Photo Submission Form to help monitor the effectiveness of experimental treatments.



Media

Visit the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Florida Reef Tract Coral Disease Outbreak: Media Resources webpage for photo, video and news about the outbreak and response.

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Last Modified:
November 13, 2019 - 10:26am

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