Deadly ‘White Syndrome’ detected among coral colonies at Scorpion Reef

The coral reefs off Yucatan are under threat. Photo: Aquarium Coral Diseases

A major threat to the coral has been detected at Isla Perez at Arrecife Alacranes, or Scorpion Reef National Park.

Personnel from the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (Conanp) off Yucatan’s Gulf coast said they detected White Syndrome, which attacks and kills corals in a matter of weeks.

White Syndrome has been spreading since at least 1998. The disease, a catchall for a host of conditions, has so far affected coral around the world, from the Caribbean and the Philippines to the Great Barrier Reef and the Red Sea.

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A range of pathogens are to blame: bacteria, protozoans, and parasitic worms have all been linked to white syndrome.

The disease marches across a coral’s limbs, slowly killing the specimen as it changes to the color of bone.

The syndrome is not to be confused with bleaching, which also turns coral white. Coral bleaching stresses the coral and results in more vulnerability to predators, disease, or toxins. Bleaching doesn’t outright kill coral. White Syndrome, on the other hand, completely destroys the coral’s tissue, leaving only the denuded skeleton.

The disease spread to Florida in 2014, killing 100-year-old coral colonies. It then spread through the Caribbean Sea, reaching Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, San Martín , the Virgin Islands, Honduras, Belize and Mexico, where it was detected in June 2018.

White Syndrome also affects the Mesoamerican Reef, the largest coral reef in the northern hemisphere, whose a coral system measures about 1,000 kilometers / 625 miles from Mexican territory to Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.

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More coral colonies have died in six months than in the last 40 years in the Mesoamerican Reef System.

In Quintana Roo, the problem is more serious because the disease spread through 400 kilometers / 250 miles of coastline, wiping out 30 percent of coral species.

UADY academic Alfonso Aguilar Perera reported that in recent years the incidence of coral diseases has increased significantly. Antibiotics drilled into the coral can halt its spread, but that is an expensive treatment.

In Yucatan, there is no plan or budget to head off White Disease at Scorpion Reef.

He suggested that divers at the reef mark evidence of the disease with GPS and alert authorities.

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