A fairly new disease known as Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) has been detected in Belize on the Northern Region of the Belize Barrier Reef Complex. It is a disease that affects coral reef systems by attacking the coral colonies and resulting in the loss of live tissue. A release from the Fisheries Department indicates that infected corals display “blotchy” lesions and high mortality rates and it was detected here in Belize in June of this year and later confirmed in July at the Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve.
The National Coral Reef Monitoring Network (NCRMN), comprised of members from the Belize Fisheries Department, Belize Audubon Society, Belize Coastal Zone Management Authority & Institute and various other stakeholders met last week to discuss a way forward to manage the disease. A task force was established to work along with protected areas managers in Northern Belize to determine the extent of the infection along the Northern Barrier Reef Complex and to administer treatment and implement measures to restrict the disease from spreading.
SCTLD is a very aggressive disease and that the pathogen which causes the disease has not been identified. Nonetheless, it is believed to be caused by bacteria and can be transmitted to other healthy corals through direct contact and from water circulation. The NCRMN is working along with its partners to develop a probabilistic map for the potential spread of the disease using a high-resolution MAR-Hycom model for water currents and other variables. While there is no clear treatment for SCTLD, interventions using chlorine, antibiotics and sometimes culling have been tested with varying degrees of success.
The NCRMN is further asking that all stakeholders especially those interacting with the reef environment remains vigilant in monitoring the spread of this disease and assist by doing the following, one to report suspected cases along with pictures in the disease tracking tool or to contact the Fisheries Department 224-4552. Two, to keep good buoyancy, refrain from bringing back anything from the infected reef and to sanitize gears before, between and after dives using a bleach solution. The disease was first reported in Florida in 2014 and recently in neighbouring Quintana Roo, Mexico.