A diseased brain coral in Looe Key, Fla. The disease is leaving a white band of recently dead skeleton in contrast to the healthy, yellow/brown tissue. Courtesy/Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
NOAA unveiled a new strategy Tuesday for the response to stony coral tissue loss disease, a disease that is spreading throughout the Atlantic and Caribbean region and may pose a threat to the Indo-Pacific region.
The high-level strategy provides a framework and focus for ongoing efforts to slow the spread and to prevent and prepare for potential spread into the Indo-Pacific region. The strategy will inform a national-level implementation plan in support of resilient coastal ecosystems, communities and economies nationwide, and around the world.
“By prioritizing the response to stony coral tissue loss disease, NOAA will further strengthen America’s Blue Economy,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, Ph.D., assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator. “The disease is unlike any witnessed before, but NOAA is leading the charge to protect these resources and the communities that depend on them.”
Stony coral tissue loss disease was first observed in south Florida in 2014. As of November 2020, it spread to 15 other Caribbean countries and territories. The outbreak is unique due to its large geographic range, extended duration, rapid progression, high rates of mortality and the number of coral species affected. Once infected, coral colonies typically die within weeks to months. The cause of the disease is still unknown. Stony coral tissue loss disease can be transmitted to other corals through direct contact and through water circulation.
NOAA is working with state and federal partners in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to lead disease response, and is specifically supporting coordination with other nations in the Caribbean.