Science & Tech

Puerto Rico declares state of emergency as disease kills the island’s coral reefs

Puerto Rico declares state of emergency as disease kills the island’s coral reefs

Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency as a mysterious disease is killing the island’s coral reefs.

As reported in VICE, the disease, stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD), affects over 30 species of corals, with a mortality rate between 66 and 100 percent, according to the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reed Assessment. The cause of SCTLD is unknown, though it was first reported in Florida in 2014, and has since spread across the Caribbean Sea. As of now, outbreaks have been confirmed on 16 Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico.

When SCTLD hit Florida in September 2014, Dr. Andy Bruckner, research coordinator for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, described infected corals as showing “small circular or irregular patches of white, exposed skeleton devoid of tissue.” Essentially, after being infected with SCTLD, the corals would lose their issue and leave only a bare skeleton behind.

The fatal disease “poses a particularly significant threat to Caribbean reefs,” the Reef Resilience Network reiterated, noting its large geographic range, extended duration, high rates of mortality and troubling amount of susceptible species.

Considering how difficult it is to regrow coral colonies, Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi declared a state of emergency on the island, demanding the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) take measures to curb the spread of the disease as well as allocate funds to manage the coral crisis, though it remains unclear for what the money will be used. As of now, the only known treatment for SCTLD is a labor-intensive process of applying antibacterial ointment to corals’ lesions, and many scientists opt to focus on over all coral restoration instead.

“We have to put this situation in the context of the natural disasters we have had, the economic crisis and the pandemic,” Pierluisi governor said in a press conference, as reported by San Juan Daily Star. “All of this has prevented an adequate response to mitigate the rapidly spreading stony coral tissue loss disease. It should be noted that corals are essential to our marine life and guarantee an ecosystem for fish and other species that support our food security.”

“Corals represent a necessary protection to minimize the vulnerability of our coastal areas, which have been so affected by climate change and hurricanes,” he continued. “Also, our coral reefs are an integral part of our tourist attraction, which has economic development implications. As you can see, there are many implications from the loss of our corals, so taking action is necessary.”

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