Coral reefs are one of the most diverse and biologically complex ecosystems in the world. A quarter of marine life depends on them for food and shelter.
For those who explore the sea, the beauty of corals is unparalleled, but like everyone else, they are not immune to disease.
To the worries that accompanied the specialists, another one was added in 2014: coral tissue loss disease, first identified in the Florida area. This spread, causing significant damage to coral reefs, and Columbia arrived in 2022.
“Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) is currently a major threat to Caribbean reefs. marine coastal ecosystems is based on the fact that SCTLD affects more than 34 different coral species, most of which are important coral reef builders, increasing the degradation of these ecosystems, which have been undergoing changes since the decade of the 80s that affect the ability to provide ecosystem services” , explains marine biologist Nacor Bolaños Cubillos.
He adds that “coral tissue loss disease is characterized by the rapid damage it causes, resulting in white patches on the coral skeleton. These lesions can spread rapidly and affect large areas of corals in a short time. The exact cause of this disease is not yet fully understood, but it is thought to be related to bacterial pathogens.”
Bolaños, Protected Areas Coordinator for the San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina (Coralina) Archipelago Sustainability Corporation, says that “since the news of a new coral disease in Florida, USA, in 2014 and its rapid spread across countries Greater Caribbean, we knew it was a matter of time before it got to us (similar to what happened with the invasive lionfish), and for this reason we took a number of actions, including preventive monitoring and after the first coral disease registry in Colombia. This was followed by additional education, research, monitoring and follow-up.”
“SCTLD was first observed and reported for Colombia by Coralina biologists in Serranilla and Bajo Nuevo (northern border of Colombia) on April 13, 2022, as part of a National Geographic Science Expedition on its leg by the Department of the Archipelago. . Subsequently, Invemar also reported this for Serrana and Kitazueño after reviewing monitoring photographs taken by the November 2021 Seaflower Plus expedition at those latitudes. In early September 2022, it was recorded on San Andres Island by marine biologists who conducted daily dives on the island. On September 26, 2022, it was registered in Cayo Bolívar as part of the Sea Flower Scientific Expedition, and on September 28, 2022, it was registered in Providencia Island by biologists and technicians from the Marine Science Corporation Center of Excellence. (CEMArin). ) that work with Mc Bean Lagoon National Nature Park,” Nacor says.
In addition to international and national reporting, referrals have been made to disease management professionals in search of assistance, as treatment is complex and expensive, for this reason efforts and project formulation processes have begun in parallel in search of international and national resources to manage it, with some important successes.
“In April 2022, an official international report was made on the presence of SCTLD in Serranilla and Bajo Nuevo, and contacts began with specialists to combat this disease,” says the biologist.
He adds that “at the national level, a report has been prepared, and with the support and guidance of the Ministry of the Environment, regional autonomous authorities and national parks, some guidelines for preventive management have been established at the country level.” or containing the disease throughout the country.”
In addition, “International support was received from SCTLD experts at various levels and within organizations, and a strategic action workshop was developed with the support of Coralina, Sirap Caribe and the Ministry of Environment to address current issues such as coral diseases. (example SCTLD) and climate change, which brought together several international experts who provided their feedback to the Colombian authorities.”
Similarly, Coraline signed an MoU with the Perry Institute of Marine Sciences in the Bahamas, and through this was able to personally invite Dr. Valeria Pizarro several times, who provided some training on the treatment of the disease.
“With the support of volunteers and under the leadership of local NGOs (such as Blue Indigo), the first procurement of a specific antibiotic for the treatment of the disease (which is used in several countries) was carried out and subsequent monitoring was carried out. outside,” he says. Nacor.
However, despite all these and other achievements, “the prospects for the coral areas of our country and neighboring countries are disappointing. But efforts must continue and be strengthened.”
It states that “According to the most recent SCTLD monitoring conducted on the San Andres Island coral platform during the third and fourth weeks of July 2023 with the support of an international disease expert (Dr. Valeria Pizarro of the Perry Institute of Marine Sciences in the Bahamas) , the disease has quickly spread throughout the island of San Andres, which is very worrying for everyone.”
Concern is rising as “international experts expect that, given the damage to coral areas from SCTLD, ‘recovery’ could take decades and, due to the magnitude of the new disease, it may not be possible to fully restore the affected coral ecosystem.” essential.”
“Given that the impacts on corals from SCTLDs go beyond the environment as they directly affect the ecosystem services that corals provide to us, coastal protection, tourism and food security, among others, are directly or indirectly affected. Therefore, in addition to environmental authorities, this issue concerns all of us,” he argues.
He notes that “when we talk about the coral reef ecosystem, the recovery has still not come, so since 2014 the various affected countries have been moving forward in possible treatments to contain the disease, and research is ongoing.”