By Helena Johnson:
During the first four days that we have lives on Union Island, we have dived a total of six times, and we were able to assess the health of some of the corals in the area. In most locations the coral is healthy and expanding. Although there was a pattern of healthy coral, as of today, when diving in a location called Petit Tabac we were given a view into some of the sicklier coral in the area.
Some common coral ailments or disease known to affect Caribbean coral include bleaching, stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD), and the black band disease. Bleaching is the process by which corals are exposed to abnormally high temperatures, causing the animals to expel their zooxanthellae, leading to the striking white appearance. Black band disease, caused by Phormidium corallyticum, kills the coral flesh and is usually found during times of high stress for the coral. SCTLD is a disease is caused by unknown means but is a quick killer and treatable through amoxicillin paste.
Particular to the area, it appears as though the majority of the unhealthy coral were affected by bleaching. This means that the corals still have a fighting chance! They are likely still alive, particularly in areas that have recently lost their coral. In the end, this should give us hope for the future of coral, that they still have a chance at coming back stronger than before.
The authors of this blog are students enrolled in Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation, field courses run in the Caribbean by the University of South Florida. In 2019 and 2021, the course went to the Carmabi research station in Curaçao and dived around the island over a 10-day period, for training and to carry out research projects. In 2018, the group went to Soufriere, Saint Lucia, and took part in various projects in partnership with the Soufriere Marine Management Association. In this blog, students will document their activities and how they relate to course material.