Darville: This silent invader is contagious as the coronavirus and as deadly as Ebola for corals
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Waterkeepers Bahamas President Joseph Darville has warned that a fast-moving underwater disease is currently sweeping throughout The Bahamas, decimating coral reefs and destroying fish habitats at an alarming rate.
It is impossible to exaggerate the threat we now face from what has become known as ‘coral COVID’.
– Joseph Darville
Darville said in an op-ed yesterday that stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) — which was first discovered in the fall of 2014 in corals off Miami — is threatening the country’s vital fishing, diving and tourism industries.
He described the growing issue as an underwater pandemic and one of the most urgent and deadly threats to the country’s reefs, fisheries and entire way of life that he has witnessed in more than half a century on the frontline of environmental advocacy.
“It is impossible to exaggerate the threat we now face from what has become known as ‘coral COVID’,” Darville said.
“This silent invader is contagious as the coronavirus and as deadly as Ebola for corals.
“Once a coral becomes infected, it will most likely be dead in a matter of months or even weeks.”
Darville noted that during a recent diving trip on Grand Bahama, he witnessed what he described as an “underwater massacre”.
“I have never seen anything like it — huge swaths of the formerly vibrant reef, once bursting with color and life, have become a barren, lifeless desert — a cold, gray, underwater graveyard,” he said.
Scientists are still trying to identify the cause, though it has been suggested the disease is likely spread by bacteria, a virus or some combination.
The underwater disease has reportedly been identified in waters surrounding Grand Bahama since the end of 2019, and has spread to New Providence.
The fallout is also likely to accelerate erosion of our coasts, as fewer reefs mean bigger waves pummeling the shore.
– Joseph Darville
Darville contended that it has now infiltrated reef systems in the Berry Islands, Eleuthera, San Salvador, Long Island and maybe more.
“The predictions for The Bahamas are dire. If nothing is done, up to 90 percent of certain brain corals once common on nearshore reefs will die, rendering those species locally extinct,” Darville said.
“The disease is also targeting so-called ‘coral dinosaurs’ — formations that took hundreds of years to form but which are disappearing in the blink of an eye.
“Before long, it is expected that local fish numbers will begin to plummet, along with sharks, sea turtles and other marine wildlife dependent on coral reefs.
“The fallout is also likely to accelerate erosion of our coasts, as fewer reefs mean bigger waves pummeling the shore.”
The longtime environmental advocate contended that the effects could cause further flooding to low-lying areas throughout the country — especially given climate change challenges.
Darville called the matter “a national crisis of the highest order for The Bahamas”.
He advised, however, that there is a way to slow down and even stop the spread of SCTLD using antibiotic Amoxicillin, applied strategically to an affected reef system, along with other measures.
This process would halt the progress of the disease and give the coral a chance to survive and recover.
The Perry Institute for Marine Science (PIMS), a conservation NGO, had previously approached the Minnis administration over the matter and warned of the serious and time-sensitive nature of the crisis.
The formation of a multi-agency task force to develop and implement an action plan specific to The Bahamas was recommended, however, according to Darville, the initiative was “mired in bureaucracy and red tape”.
Darville said, however, that the wider community can take action by learning how to identify the disease and reporting sightings so that PIMS can continue to monitor the spread.
Those sighting can be reported at https://www.perryinstitute.org/contact-us.
Additionally, boaters, divers, fishermen and ocean-lovers are also being asked to disinfect their gear after each dive to avoid accidentally spreading the disease between reefs
“Above all, the most important thing we can do is demand that the government takes swift action in the face of this urgent crisis,” Darville added.
“A national plan for saving our reefs has already been drawn up. We must urge the decision-makers to stop delaying, stop dithering, stop wasting precious time and let the qualified environmental scientists save our reefs, our livelihoods, before it’s too late.”