Halmos Researchers Battle Coral Disease with Human Drug

What started as a coral disease outbreak near Miami in 2014 has since spread throughout most of the Florida Reef Tract as well as to some other parts of the Caribbean. The disease has been termed “Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease.” Experts are working to determine the pathogen that causes the disease, but it is known to spread through the water, and most scientists involved in the collaborative efforts suspect it is bacterial because of how it responds to antibiotics.

Research collaborations among numerous agencies and institutions are following multiple pathways. These include genetic studies to identify the pathogen and to assess how corals respond physiologically, laboratory studies on transmission and progression rates, development of pharmaceutical products for treatment, and considerations for creating healthier environments for corals to heal. “I think there’s a lot of similarities between how we should be treating coral diseases and how we should be treating human diseases,” Halmos Research Scientist Karen Neely, Ph.D. said.

In a race to save the remaining corals, researchers have been treating already-infected coral colonies with a paste combined with amoxicillin. A Spectrum News crew accompanied the group during a day of field work at Looe Key Reef, one of the most coral dense regions in the Florida Keys. The video can be viewed online at https://www.mynews13.com/fl/orlando/news/2020/02/27/researchers-try-to-slow-disease-destroying-atlantic-reef.

“Most of the time, scientists and marine biologists spend a lot of time documenting declines of ecosystems. We’re actually some of the few that are lucky enough to be able to get out here and try to do something about it,” Neely said.

At Looe Key Reef, the scientists have saved over 800 corals. Additional work at eight other sites has brought the team’s tally of treated corals to over 1500. Other efforts by teams in Biscayne National Park and Southeast Florida bring the total to over 2000. Neely is unsure how the reefs would have fared if not for their intervention efforts. “We were out here a couple of weeks ago, and as we looked around, we realized everything here was either dead or had been treated by us,” she said.