SOLUTIONS 6/10: The devastation to coral reefs and the fish they support


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By Huck Fairman

The dangers that we all face from the global climate crisis have been widely, and in detail,
documented. Those dangers take many forms as our environments react to the heat and pollution we are pouring into our atmosphere, oceans and continents.

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A recent report documented by a PBS Newshour program details the destruction that heat and pollution are visiting upon our oceans, but particularly on coral reefs. But now, in addition to heat and pollution, a new epidemic in Florida and the Bahamas is destroying many of the coral reefs.

Science Correspondent Miles O’Brien has been scuba diving in the waters off Florida and the Bahamas for 35 years. This has made him an eyewitness to the slow-motion disaster that is unfolding from the growing heat, pollution and now this new epidemic destroying coral reefs.

Marine Biologist Karen Neely also reports that the coral she used to see in those waters
is no longer there – gone in only the last 20 years. O’Brien attributes this global problem has been brought on by: pollution, overfishing, the climate crisis … and now the new epidemic.

The IPCC (The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) predicts that 90% of tropical
coral will disappear by 2030 unless drastic action is taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

First discovered in 2014 near Miami, this new disease, The Stoney Coral Tissue Loss Disease, spreads and kills rapidly. It strikes 20 of the approximately 60 species and it kills between 66% and 100 of those species.

Smithsonian Researcher Valerie Paul is also seeking answers to this new disease. She notes that corals are complex, poorly understood animals. They live symbiotically with algae. Indeed, many of coral’s vivid colors are created by the algae. White patches on the coral are created by the disease and help identify its presence. But scientists do not yet know what the pathogen is that is killing the coral. It could be viral or bacterial, or some combination.

On a hopeful note, investigating scientists have found a “beneficial” bacterium that fights off the disease. As a result, they are now treating healthy coral with probiotics, which seem to encourage recovery and survival. But the scientists acknowledge that it is early in the campaign.

Other scientists are applying amoxicillin paste to ailing coral, which seems to allow recovery. But they too allow that the problem is massive and that their efforts, while encouraging, are early.

Near Tampa, another research and breeding center has saved as many as 15,000 corals, which they plan to return to the ocean waters.

Researchers in Florida see that it is essential that while we reduce emissions, pollution and the heat they trap, we must also take the necessary steps to maintain diversity in our environments.

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