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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. Hereís what he told me:

ďCoral 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, ĎWhatís the best place to go where thereís no disease and pollution?í. Diseases and eutropication can be found at all sites in the Caribbean.

ďThe coralís resistance to disease is low because itís under stress: high temperatures (indicated by widespread bleaching), eutrophication, sedimentation, pollution, salinity changes, storms. Stress lowers coralís 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.

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

ďWhat can divers do to help? This year and next Iíll be running workshops on coral diseases. This will give divers a chance to get involved with scientists. Soon Iíll 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.

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

To offer your assistance, contact Dr. James Cervino at

J. Q.

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