Disease has potential to kill more than 50 percent of all coral species found in Bahamian waters
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — A new marine epidemic is rapidly spreading through more than 20 percent of coral reefs in Grand Bahama’s National Parks.
The Bahamas National Trust sounded the alarm over Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) in a press statement marking the 50th anniversary of Earth Day today.
The disease was first documented in the country in November, and in the past five months has affected Peterson Cay National Park and the Lucayan National Park.
The BNT said the results of a rapid assessment, completed in March 2020 by Perry Institute of Marine Science (PIMS), leaves park wardens and environmental stewards deeply troubled.
The local epicenter of the disease is reportedly less than 40 miles away, near Freeport.
“Corals found throughout The Bahamas are the building blocks of reef ecosystems,” said Lakeshia Anderson, BNT Parks Director.
“We have known for decades that coral reefs face many threats such as natural predators, climatic changes and human interference, but this recent discovery of a deadly coral disease in our national parks is the gravest threat to corals in Grand Bahama and throughout the archipelago.
Healthy corals support countries like The Bahamas by providing incredible marine biodiversity including nursery grounds for economically important fisheries, protecting coastal communities from storm surges, increasing gross domestic product through fisheries and tourism.
These important systems are simply the foundation of marine life, said the BNT’s statement, which noted more than ten million dollars have been spent trying to understand the SCTLD epidemic.
Shelley Cant-Woodside, BNT Director of Science, said: “The high rate of infection and mortality of SCTLD will be a catastrophic loss to coral ecosystems in The Bahamas. If it continues at its present rate, this disease has the potential to kill more than 50% of all coral species found in Bahamian waters. Even our most robust colonies that have taken centuries to grow could be wiped out in a very short period of time.”
With somber realities propelling its commitment to protect the country’s national parks, even in times of global crisis, The BNT is working closely with experts from The Bahamas Government,
In its statement, the BNT noted it was working closely with government, the scientific community, and other strategic partners such as PIMS, The Nature Conservancy, and B.R.E.E.F.
It added the Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard, and collective recommendations called for a special task force to include relevant government agencies and partners, including representatives from the National Fisheries Association of The Bahamas.
“That task force would have, as a priority, to develop a response plan,” the BNT statement added.
“For the BNT, there is an urgency to establish early detection of the disease throughout Bahamian national parks and to work with experts to determine if implemented measures indeed slow down its spread.
“This disease underscores the importance of having national parks and marine protected areas. These nature reserves act as a refuge- where ecosystems are healthier and less stressed. Although SCTLD has been spotted within two national parks and is affecting various coral species, the outcome may be better in these managed spaces where monitoring and disease impact can take place undisturbed.
The statement added: “National parks protect healthy coral reefs from Grand Bahama to Inagua. As such they offer the best opportunity to successfully apply science-based strategies and conservation measures to combat the disease. This will help protect the biodiversity of vibrant oceans that are essential to our Bahamian way of life.”