UVI Researchers Seek Help From Public to Hunt for Coral Disease

White patches on a brain coral at Black Point illustrate the rapid spread of the destructive SCTLD attacking reefs in V.I. waters. (Photo by Sonora Meiling)
White patches on a brain coral at Black Point illustrate the rapid spread of the destructive SCTLD attacking reefs in V.I. waters. (Photo by Sonora Meiling)

Coral disease researchers at the University of the Virgin Islands Center for Marine and Environmental Studies are calling for the community to help hunt for coral disease. The VI Reef Response Hunt for Coral Disease will take place Aug. 24 through Sept. 7.

Background
Early this year, a new coral disease emerged on the reefs of St. Thomas. The characteristics of this disease closely match that of one called stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) that has been ravag-ing coral reefs in the Florida Keys for the last four years. Researchers are unsure yet how it got to St. Thomas, but it is clear it is having devastating effects on the reefs.

The disease first emerged near Flat Cay on the south west side of the island and has spread west as far as Savana Island with alarming speed. It has also started spreading east along the north side of St. Thomas and has recently been spotted off Santa Maria Bay. There have been mixed reports of the disease near Hull Bay.

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What the Public Should Know:
• This disease has no known cure.
• It kills stony corals (brain coral and pillar coral) very quickly.
• It is harmless to humans.
• Researchers need the public’s help mapping the spread of the disease around St. Thomas, V.I.

Join the Hunt for Coral Disease
Coral disease researchers are working hard to find a way to slow the spread of this disease and potentially stop it altogether. It is critical they identify exactly how far the disease has spread around St. Thomas. At this time, Hull Bay is suspected to be the frontline to the north and Buck Island is the suspected frontline at the south. Be-cause the disease spreads so very quickly, verification must be done within a short space of time.

The community can help refine the frontline of the disease by visiting their favorite coral reef and reporting back their findings. Reports of healthy corals and healthy reefs are just as important as reports of diseased corals.

To join the VI Reef Response Hunt and learn more, visit https://viepscor.org/the-hunt-for-coral-disease

Disease Identification
It is not necessary for anyone to be an expert to make a report. Iden-tifying coral disease is very difficult. Many diseases look alike and are difficult to distinguish from predation or other afflictions. Coral dis-ease researchers at the UVI Center for Marine and Environmental Studies only ask for a people’s best description or photos because their eyes on the reef are critical to this mission.

Participate in the Coral Disease Identification Workshop at Hull Bay Hideaway on Aug. 23.
Personal safety: Volunteers are responsible for their personal safety. Engaging in snorkeling and SCUBA diving activities is in-herently risky. Only experienced snorkelers and SCUBA divers should consider surveying coral reefs for coral disease. Do not go out in dangerous weather. Also, while coral diseases are not a danger to humans, do not come in contact with corals or other marine life. Many marine animals and plants have stinging cells, sharp edges or other characteristics that can be harmful to hu-mans.

Quick links:
VI EPSCoR www.viepscor.org
More information about The Hunt https://viepscor.org/the-hunt-for-coral-disease
Register for The Hunt https://viepscor.org/register-for-coral-disease-hunt
Coral disease locations map https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?ll=18.04345664954556%2C-64.85349500000001&mid=16JIZBIcvvjnd3MrgriHuPNTI60-HFEPy&z=10
VI Reef Response https://viepscor.org/vi-reef-response

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