Last year at the wreck of The Rhone, a diver treats a piece of coral infected with Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. Since experts confirmed last May that the disease had made it to the Virgin Islands, they have encountered it at 21 sites in the territory’s waters. (File photo: PROVIDED)

An aggressive disease that can quickly kill stony corals has spread to at least 21 sites in the territory’s waters, according to a video released this month by the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands.

Responders, however, have been somewhat successful in treating affected sea life and will continue working to battle Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley said last week in the House of Assembly.

“Aggressive treatment of SCTLD for some areas has allowed the slow or partial recovery of some areas,” Mr. Wheatley said in a March 10 statement. “Unfortunately, some species are more susceptible than others. As a result, some corals have died.”

Mr. Wheatley’s ministry, the trust, the Governor’s Office, Unite BVI and VI dive operators have been working together to fight the disease, he said, adding that these efforts will continue through the end of this month.

Arrival

Biologist Dr. Shannon Gore, the managing director of the Association of Reef Keepers, confirmed last May that the highly infectious disease had reached the territory’s reefs.

It attacks the algae living inside coral tissues, causing white lesions and eventually causing tissue to fall off, killing the coral. Soft corals seem to be unaffected, but SCTLD can affect up to 20 species of stony corals, according to the trust.

Little is known about the bacteria that causes these infections, but experts believe it originated off the coast of Florida around 2014.

The trust said SCTLD has been confirmed in 13 other Caribbean countries as well.

The video explained that one of the challenges in identifying the disease-causing bacteria is that corals naturally contain multiple types of bacteria at any given time.

Treatment

Dr. Gore said one way teams can attempt to stop SCTLD from causing more damage is by using a syringe filled with an amoxicillin mixture to treat sickly coral, but the trust noted that lesions have sometimes reappeared on treated corals.

As part of its educational campaign, the trust encouraged divers to thoroughly clean their equipment, and urged visitors to rent equipment here rather than bringing their own.

The trust added that divers shouldn’t touch potentially diseased corals without the proper training for treating them.

Holding tanks

As part of efforts to prevent spreading the bacteria to vulnerable areas, Mr. Wheatley also urged boaters not to not empty their holding tanks within 1,000 metres of the territory’s shores.

The minister also highlighted the importance of corals for protecting coasts from rough weather, providing sand for beaches, acting as an important element of the VI’s tourism product, and giving a habitat to the fish residents eat.


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