by Melissa Smith
Sand at the bottom of the ocean can transmit stony coral tissue loss disease, which has killed millions of coral colonies, according to a new study. This finding could help mitigate transmission of the disease, which has spread throughout Florida and the Caribbean since 2014.
The disease’s origin is one of the “unanswered questions with this outbreak, and I’m not sure if we will ever really understand where it came from,” Michael Studivan, lead author of the study and a scientist at the University of Miami’s Cooperative Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Science, tells the Miami radio station WLRN. “But what this study tells us is that perhaps the disease can persist in these sediments, and so it needs to be something that we take into consideration going forward.”
Researchers placed uncontaminated corals in sediment that had been inoculated with the disease from infected corals. These initially healthy corals showed signs of disease about a day later.
“To see visible signs of lesion formation and bleaching after 24 hours was truly surprising,” says Studivan. “It emphasizes the potential for sediments to be a rapid way of moving the disease from coral to coral.” Previous research indicates it takes about two weeks for the disease to move from one coral to another.
The disease was first spotted in Florida’s Virginia Key in 2014. It has since spread throughout the region and the broader Caribbean.