Calling all VI Reef Responders!

we need you to Join the hunt for coral disease
August 24 – September 7 2019


Healthy Symmetrical Brain Coral ( Pseudodiploria strigosa ) . This is a healthy brain coral with no signs of disease lesions.  Stock photo.

Healthy Symmetrical Brain Coral (Pseudodiploria strigosa). This is a healthy brain coral with no signs of disease lesions.
Stock photo.

Diseased Grooved Brain Coral ( Diploria labyrinthiformis ) . This brain coral’s stark white skeleton is exposed as it is ravaged by stony coral tissue loss disease.  Photo credit: Howard Forbes, Jr.

Diseased Grooved Brain Coral (Diploria labyrinthiformis). This brain coral’s stark white skeleton is exposed as it is ravaged by stony coral tissue loss disease. Photo credit: Howard Forbes, Jr.

background

Early this year, a new coral disease emerged on the reefs of St. Thomas. The characteristics of this disease closely match that of one called Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) which has been ravaging coral reefs in the Florida Keys for the last four years. We are unsure yet how it got to St. Thomas, but it is clear it is having devastating effects on the reefs. 

The disease first emerged near Flat Cay, on the south west side of the island and has spread west as far as Savana Island with alarming speed. It has also started spreading east along the north side of St. Thomas and has recently been spotted off of Santa Maria Bay.  There have been mixed reports of the disease near Hull Bay.

What you should know

This disease has no known cure.
It kills stony corals (brain coral and pillar coral) very quickly.
It is harmless to humans!
Researchers need your help mapping the spread of the disease around St. Thomas, VI.

we need your help! Join the hunt for this coral disease

We need your help hunting for coral disease. Coral disease researchers are working hard to find a way to slow the spread of this disease and potentially stop it altogether. It is critical they identify exactly how far the disease has spread around St. Thomas. At this time, Hull Bay is suspected to be the frontline to the north and Buck Island is the suspected frontline at the south. Because the disease spreads so very quickly, verification must be done within a short space of time.

You can help refine the frontline of the disease by visiting your favorite coral reef and report back what you find.  Reports of healthy corals and healthy reefs are just as important as reports of diseased corals.

 

To join the hunt, or for more information,
fill out the inquiry form below.

 

how it works

We are asking experienced divers and snorkelers to go out to their favorite reefs between August 24th – September 7th and hunt for signs of coral disease in general, but Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease in particular, and report their finding back to us. We are asking volunteers to:

  1. Review the disease identification guides (available below). You can also pick up a copy of a waterproof identification guide at our Coral Disease Training Event at Hull Bay Hideaway on August 23rd. 

  2. Bring an underwater camera and take photos of anything suspicious on the corals. Pay particular attention to brain corals and pillar corals.

  3. Record suspected disease locations with GPS coordinates.

  4. If you don’t have an underwater camera, don’t worry, you can still send us GPS coordinates and we will send a team to investigate.

  5. If you don’t see anything unusual it still helps if you send a photo of healthy corals (this helps us establish a baseline should disease appear at that location in the future.)

Report!

Submit your photos, survey results, and location using the link below. Feel free to also email the report to czm@dpnr.vi.gov or call 340-774-3320.   After you submit your report you will receive feedback from our scientists about what you found. We will also post your report on our google map.

Disease identification

It is not necessary for you to be an expert to make a report. Identifying coral disease is very difficult. Many diseases look alike and are difficult to distinguish from predation or other afflictions. We only ask for your best description or photos. Your eyes on the reef are critical to this mission. We will follow up with you for more details if necessary.

Things to keep in mind

Personal safety: You are responsible for your personal safety. Engaging in snorkelling and SCUBA diving activities is inherently risky. Only experienced snorkelers and SCUBA divers should consider surveying coral reefs for coral disease. Do not go out in dangerous weather. Also, while coral diseases are not a danger to humans, do not come in contact with corals or other marine life. Many marine animals and plants have stinging cells, sharp edges, or other characteristics that can be harmful to humans.

Diseased Boulder Star Coral ( Orbicella faveolata ):  This boulder star coral is half dead from disease. White areas are where the coral animal has died and left behind its skeleton. The maze coral to the left in the photo recently died from disease.   Photo credit: Marilyn Brandt, Ph.D.

Diseased Boulder Star Coral (Orbicella faveolata): This boulder star coral is half dead from disease. White areas are where the coral animal has died and left behind its skeleton. The maze coral to the left in the photo recently died from disease.
Photo credit: Marilyn Brandt, Ph.D.

Surveying for disease . A UVI researcher surveys for disease at Flat Cay. Multiple bright white patches on brain and boulder star corals are indicative of stony coral tissue loss disease.  Photo credit: Viktor Brandtneris

Surveying for disease. A UVI researcher surveys for disease at Flat Cay. Multiple bright white patches on brain and boulder star corals are indicative of stony coral tissue loss disease. Photo credit: Viktor Brandtneris

Diseased Pillar Corals ( Dendrogyra cylindrus ).  Pillar corals is highly susceptible to stony coral tissue loss disease. Disease lesions appear as big patches of white on the coral that expand through time.  Photo credit: Marilyn Brandt, Ph.D.

Diseased Pillar Corals (Dendrogyra cylindrus). Pillar corals is highly susceptible to stony coral tissue loss disease. Disease lesions appear as big patches of white on the coral that expand through time. Photo credit: Marilyn Brandt, Ph.D.

Diseased Boulder Brain Coral ( Colpophyllia natans ).  A boulder brain coral showing the large bright white patches of exposed skeleton characteristic of stony coral tissue loss disease.   Photo credit: Marilyn Brandt, Ph.D.

Diseased Boulder Brain Coral (Colpophyllia natans). A boulder brain coral showing the large bright white patches of exposed skeleton characteristic of stony coral tissue loss disease.
Photo credit: Marilyn Brandt, Ph.D.

Diseased Large-Cup Star Coral . A close up of a diseased large-cup star coral. Stony coral tissue loss disease causes the tissue on affected corals to rapidly liquefy and sometimes leaves a white film behind.  Photo credit: Viktor Brandtneris

Diseased Large-Cup Star Coral. A close up of a diseased large-cup star coral. Stony coral tissue loss disease causes the tissue on affected corals to rapidly liquefy and sometimes leaves a white film behind. Photo credit: Viktor Brandtneris

Photo credit: Marilyn Brandt, Ph.D.

Photo credit: Marilyn Brandt, Ph.D.

 

U.S. Virgin Islands
Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease map