Halmos College Researcher and Alumni Work to Create Probiotic for Diseased Corals

In early September, researchers at the Smithsonian Marine Station (SMS) partnered with Halmos College Research Scientist Brian Walker, Ph.D. and his GIS and Spatial Ecology laboratory to test two new probiotic application treatments for wild corals infected with stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD).  These treatments, a bag for covering whole colonies and a paste for individual disease lesions, were developed by researchers at SMS, including Halmos College MS alumna Kelly Pitts.

The bag method entailed covering whole Montastraea cavernosa coral colonies with a weighted enclosure, injecting probiotics inside, and waiting two hours before removing the enclosure to allow colonization of the coral with probiotic bacteria. Video of this method can be seen here: https://youtu.be/MnJaA7-SVYA

Additionally, scientists experimented with a probiotic-loaded paste, developed by SMS, to apply treatments directly to individual disease lesions. The paste hardens on contact with seawater to prevent it from floating away, and adheres to the coral tissue, which allows probiotics to colonize the coral.

The research team will revisit treated colonies regularly to assess the probiotics treatment success and retreat the corals if necessary. These two innovative strategies have enabled the first coral probiotic treatments of SCTLD diseased corals on the reef.