Wed | May 27, 2020

New coral disease outbreak found along Grand Bahama coastline

Published:Thursday | April 9, 2020 | 12:21 AM


A NEW, rapidly spreading outbreak of stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) has infiltrated nearly 40 miles of Grand Bahama’s southern coastline, killing a wide range of corals, including some that are already endangered.

“Corals are the engineers that build the entire marine ecosystem. Without them the ecosystem collapses. The reefs lose their function. It makes a fundamental change in the ecosystem from what we’ve seen in the past,” said Dr Craig Dahlgren, a marine ecologist with the Perry Institute for Marine Science who led the research investigation last month.

“The greatest infection rates and greatest amount of mortality were close to Freeport, close to the port. For some species, 90 per cent of the corals were either dead or dying. It was very widespread at that point. In those severe cases, there is little you can do to help those corals.”

Silent and deadly, if the outbreak goes unchecked scientists believe the fallout could prove worse than the 1930s marine disease which wiped out sponging beds across the country and led to the crash of the Bahama Islands’ then number-one industry, sponging.

Although corals typically face a number of threats, including nearly a dozen different diseases, SCTLD poses the single greatest hazard, since roughly half of the coral species in the Bahamas are susceptible. Other diseases usually infect maybe two to three species. SCTLD is also more lethal and spreads faster.

The report for Grand Bahama submitted to government agencies on March 16, linked the introduction of the disease to The Bahamas with cruise ships and large commercial vessels.

“It is more likely that SCTLD reached Grand Bahama through vessel traffic into and out of Freeport. Most likely, ballast water from large commercial vessels (cruise ships or cargo ships) coming from Miami, or another infected area ,are the culprit and may present the greatest threat to spread of the disease,” the report read.

“Since its introduction, however, the disease has spread over vast areas on shallow reefs, probably due to alongshore currents.