NOAA releases Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease response plan

Document prioritizes key actions to treat and prevent spread

Image showing Rico Diaz swimming past a heavily diseased brain coral.
Rico Diaz swims past a heavily diseased brain coral. (U.S. National Park Service)
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Audio file

Audio: October 5, 2022 media briefing on NOAA's plan for responding to stony coral tissue loss disease

 

 

Today, NOAA is releasing a plan to guide future actions to treat and prevent the spread of a disease affecting coral reefs in Florida and the U.S. Caribbean. The plan also includes actions to prevent the spread of the disease to the Indo-Pacific.  

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, first identified in 2014, has harmed more than 22 species of stony corals in Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and continues to spread across the Caribbean. Cases have been confirmed in at least 20 countries and territories. 

The outbreak is unique in its rapid progression, high death rates, large geographic range, extended duration and the number of coral species affected. Once infected, coral colonies typically die within weeks to months. 

“This plan will support and enhance the effectiveness of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease research, response, prevention and community engagement for the next five years,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “With reefs already vulnerable to rising ocean temperatures, pollution and other stressors, NOAA is committed to working with partners to improve and protect coral reefs.” 

 

Examples of stony coral tissue loss disease affecting star coral, maze coral, and pillar coral in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Scientists observe and record disease progression on a large pillar coral colony.

The NOAA Strategy for Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease: An Implementation Plan for Response and Prevention will promote projects that help scientists study potential causes, understand how the disease spreads, identify high-risk locations and vessels at risk of transporting the disease, develop new treatments and diagnostic tools and evaluate the vulnerability of Pacific coral species. The strategy also increases the local capacity for disease response by supporting field training, citizen science and coral rescue efforts.

Specifics called out in the plan include:

  • Determining the disease cause, which can aid in outbreak management and prevention. 
  • Identifying routes and vehicles that move disease in order to inform intervention and prevention strategies. 
  • Increasing NOAA’s investment in treatment and intervention in affected locations. 
  • Researching which species in the Pacific are susceptible to the disease, in order to target prevention and response plans. 

While this disease currently only exists in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, work underway will help prepare Pacific communities to respond to the potential spread of the disease to the Indo-Pacific region. 

“Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease is a potential global threat,” said Jennifer Koss, director of the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program. “NOAA is simultaneously preparing the Indo-Pacific region, while working to minimize impacts of the ongoing outbreak in the Atlantic-Caribbean and plan for the restoration of affected coral reefs. We are also strengthening international partnerships to assist with combating the disease.” 

Climate change and other chronic stressors have had a huge impact on the health of coral reefs in recent decades. It is likely that declining ecosystem health has made corals more susceptible to diseases. Taking action to reduce long-term stressors like climate change is an essential component of any effort to combat coral disease. 

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease is a complex challenge that will impact U.S. coral reefs for years to come. NOAA’s action plan outlines ongoing, long-term actions needed to address this threat for the future, while also prioritizing actions that will be highly effective in combating the disease and protecting coral reefs in the short term.

This plan and more information on the science and management of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease are available on NOAA’s Coral Reef Information System SCTLD webpage. The implementation plan builds on the scientific framework provided by the NOAA Strategy for Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Response and Prevention, released in 2020.

 

Media contact

Jennie Lyons, jennie.lyons@noaa.gov, (202) 603-9372

RESOURCES

Audio file

Audio: October 5, 2022 media briefing on NOAA's plan for responding to stony coral tissue loss disease