Cayman’s reefs have been affected by deadly Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease that has swept away Florida’s coral reefs.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission reported that the Upper Keys has lost more than 40% of its corals as a result of the disease. Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease was first discovered in Florida in 2014 and has been reported in at least 12 Caribbean jurisdictions, including Jamaica, St. Maarten, United States Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, and Turks and Caicos Islands, according to the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment.
Deputy Director at the Department of Environment Tim Austin said: “We put out stakes and nails into the coral so we can determine how fast it’s spreading, and it will help us determine how quick of a response is needed. Obviously, if it’s moved hundreds of metres or to lots more corals, we’ll know we’ve got to get going faster than we currently are. But if things are relatively stable, then we’ve got some time to really think up a more solid response,”
“It certainly looks as though all corals can be infected by it, but there are certain species that are much more susceptible to it. In particular, the pillar coral we’re seeing, which is quite a rare coral anyway. We’ve seen that on the west side. The pillar corals are very, very susceptible to it. Florida lost, I think 95%, of its pillar coral as a result of this disease,” he said.
“Though it’s a fairly large area, the disease does look like it’s confined. We found the edges of it, in terms of the spread,” he said, and added that hard corals created the structure of reefs and are critical species.
“They are the ones that have been building the reef structure, the dimension. All of that has been built by the living coral animal, so to lose those would be really, really catastrophic. We would lose the three-dimensional structure. We would lose the productivity on the reef and pretty much everything else. Fish, all other marine life, is very, very closely connected to that process,” he said.
“A reef without coral would not be the best dive in the world. But then, you know, there are dives where coral isn’t the main feature, but certainly for the majority of the dives in Cayman, the coral reef is the attraction,” he said.
It is unclear how the disease spread to Cayman, “But there are people suggesting it could be ballast water (discharged from ships). It could be in people’s dive equipment. There’s a host of factors that could, in fact, carry this. But, at the moment, it’s probably most likely just brought on ocean currents,” he said.