Mysterious 'white plague' threatens South Florida coral reefs – Tampabay.com
MIAMI — A mysterious epidemic continues to sweep South Florida’s reefs, transforming corals into lifeless skeletons and threatening undersea structures that support tourism, provide hurricane protection and serve as homes to a vast range of marine life.
Called white plague, white blotch and other names, depending on the pattern of damaged or destroyed tissue, the disease has infected more than 20 South Florida coral species from the Middle Keys through Palm Beach County, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The Sun-Sentinel reports that on the reefs running from mid-Miami-Dade County through Martin County, scientists have observed a 35 percent loss of reef-building coral.
“The reef is in a state of emergency,” said Jennifer Stein, South Florida marine conservation coordinator for the Nature Conservancy. “It needs a lot of attention, a lot of research, a lot of focus, especially with this disease.”
The disease arose during a worldwide, three-year coral catastrophe called bleaching, in which unusually warm ocean water led many corals to expel the piece of algae that provided them with color and gave them a source of nutrition through photosynthesis. Although coral can recover from bleaching, the ordeal weakens them and makes them vulnerable to disease.
Despite occupying only a tiny fraction of the footprint of the world’s oceans, coral reefs provide habitat for about a quarter of the world’s marine species. South Florida’s reefs, the only near-shore reefs in the continental United States, draw thousands of visitors for fishing, diving and snorkeling and provide homes to fish, crabs, lobsters, sponges, sea turtles and other creatures.
Since appearing in South Florida in late 2014, as corals were weakened by bleaching, the epidemic has spread quickly. A 35 percent loss of stony coral has taken place off the South Florida coast north of