The deadly coral disease in Florida and the Caribbean can be carried in ship hulls, according to a study

by Diana Udel, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science

Coral colonies of Colpophyllia natans and Orbicella faveolata species maintained in the aquarium systems of the Experimental Reef Laboratory. These corals were rescued from a dam collapse on Star Island in July 2022 and will be used to support research and restoration efforts. Credit: Joshua Prezant

A new study suggests ships could be spreading a deadly coral disease in Florida and the Caribbean. Findings from scientists at the University of Miami’s (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science could help establish testing and treatment methods to mitigate the risk of further spread of the disease.

Stony coral tissue loss disease, or SCTLD, was first observed near Miami in 2014 and has since spread throughout the Florida reef and Caribbean, including waters off Jamaica. St. Maarten, US Virgin Islands and Belize.

The researchers suggest that transportation through ship hulls, where ships load ballast water in one region to keep it stable and release it at a different port, may have contributed to the spread of the disease.

“Outbreaks in very distant locations suggest that the transport of the disease was aided by means other than ocean currents alone, such as through the ballast water of ships,” said lead study author Michael Studivan, assistant scientist at the ‘UM Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) and NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory.

In the Rosenstiel School’s Experimental Reef Lab, researchers conducted two disease transmission experiments simulating ship’s ballast water and UV treatment of ballast water to determine whether SCTLD pathogens can be transported in this way and whether established approaches to ballast water treatment such as UV light can successfully prevent the spread of disease.

The first experiment exposed healthy corals to three types of water: 1) disease-exposed, 2) disease-exposed and UV-treated, and 3) disease-free water in a continuous-flow tank system.

Over a six-week period, the researchers observed the onset of disease lesions and mortality to determine how many corals became diseased, how quickly, and whether UV treatment of disease-exposed water led to less number of corals affected.

In a second experiment, the researchers held the same types of water in containers to simulate a ship’s ballast tank for one and five days, then exposed the water to healthy corals to determine whether SCTLD pathogens could survive over time. and whether they became more or less contagious over time.

The researchers then tested the ballast water generated for both experiments in collaboration with the US Naval Research Laboratory in Key West to quantify microbial communities and their abundances in treated and untreated ballast water.

“The findings suggest that the ship’s ballast water poses a threat to the continued spread and persistence of SCTLD throughout the Caribbean and potentially to coral reefs in the Pacific, and that established treatment and testing standards may not mitigate the risk. of spreading the disease,” said Studivan.

The study, titled “Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) Transmission in Simulated Ballast Water Confirms Potential for Ship-born Spread,” was published Nov. 1, 2022 in the journal Scientific reports.

More information:
Michael S. Studivan et al, Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) transmission in simulated ballast water confirms potential for ship-born spread, Scientific reports (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-022-21868-z

Provided by the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science

Citation: Deadly coral disease in Florida and Caribbean can be carried in ship hulls, study findings (2022, Nov. 17) retrieved Nov. 17, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-11- deadly-coral-disease-florida- caribbean.html

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