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October 1997 Vol. 12, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Stressed-Out Corals

from the October, 1997 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

To learn more about recent alarming reports of coral die-offs, I contacted Dr. James Cervino of Global Coral Reef Alliance. Heres what he told me:

Coral epizootics [widespread disease outbreaks] are on the rise. It is very important to note that this is not simply an isolated case happening to one island; coral diseases are hitting the entire Caribbean. Divers ask me all the time, Whats the best place to go where theres no disease and pollution?. Diseases and eutropication can be found at all sites in the Caribbean.

The corals resistance to disease is low because its under stress: high temperatures (indicated by widespread bleaching), eutrophication, sedimentation, pollution, salinity changes, storms. Stress lowers corals production of mucus, which protects it from sediment and harmful bacteria. Bacteria love to invade coral under stress. I recently cultured mucus samples from a bleached coral and an unbleached coral. The bleached coral had much higher concentrations of bacteria than the unstressed coral.

I just confirmed rapid wasting disease in the Virgin Islands; its hitting hard, and I know its just a matter of time till its in the Bahamas.

What can divers do to help? This year and next Ill be running workshops on coral diseases. This will give divers a chance to get involved with scientists. Soon Ill be issuing an ID card with all the known diseases in the field to take with you underwater. Report your observations, and send me videos or slides for confirmation.

We need divers! But most divers are seeing bleaching, not disease. Pictures can help. With photos in hand, we can decide whether its worth a trip to collect samples.

To offer your assistance, contact Dr. James Cervino at cnidaria@earthlink.net.

J. Q.

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