The Coronavirus has expanded its detrimental impact on the world’s economy and health systems. While Governments employ measures to combat this pandemic, there is a similar battle raging beneath the seas. Marine biologists are fighting a disease which has fast earned the term, COVID of the Seas.
The coral reefs in Saint Lucia by extension the Caribbean is currently facing numerous issues. However, the most prominent threat is the Stony Coral tissue loss disease. This is a new lethal disease which was first reported in Florida in 2014 which eventually travelled to the Caribbean region over a period of time. Further details were received by Fisheries Biologist Monique Caldron, surrounding what is commonly referred to as the “Covid of the sea”.
“We notice instances of it in Saint Lucia as early as last summer when we got some reports from dive operators especially in the area of Soufriere. Unfortunately, this disease moved very quickly, a lot faster than we were able to mobilize the resources to be able to halt it in its tracks. So with Stony Coral tissues loss disease, what happens is that the actual tissue on the coral is disease. A lot of people think that the coral are just rocks under the water but coral actually exist with a skeleton which is covered by coral tissue. So, the disease actually targets the tissue and waste away tissues, leaving behind only the coral skeleton which by itself is essentially a dead coral. This leaves room for algae and other things to come and colonize and takeover the coral reef depleting the number of healthy coral reefs we have on island. That also reduces habitat for fish which would have a negative effect, reducing our fish population numbers,” said Caldron.
But what causes stony coral tissue loss? The Causal agent remains unknown but is suspected to be a bacterium, although recent studies suggest a virus.
“Right now, Scientist are still trying to determine the exact cause of it. We have narrowed it down to possibly being a virus that is transmitted by the ballast water or the water that is taken in on shipping boats, large cargo boats and cruise ships. So, there is a theory that water is taken in Florida and has now been deposited around the Caribbean as these ships go throughout the Caribbean,” said Caldron.
The Fisheries Biologist made a special plea to Saint Lucians and none Citizens to play a part in combating this sea pandemic whilst the Department of Fisheries, by extension the Ministry of Agriculture, continues to explore the science which will help curb this problem.
Coral reefs provide an important ecosystem for life underwater. As coral reefs are destroyed, coastlines become more susceptible to damage and flooding from storms, hurricanes and cyclones which places our island home in jeopardy.