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Photo : Joe Marino

Florida Reef Tract Coral Disease Outbreak (2014-present)

Florida’s coral reefs are currently experiencing a multi-year outbreak of coral disease. First reported in Miami-Dade County in fall 2014, the disease has continued to spread both north and south along the Florida Reef Tract and is estimated to have resulted in the mortality of millions of corals across southeast Florida, Biscayne National Park, and the Florida Keys. The following notable factors associated with this disease make it one of the worst coral disease outbreaks on record:

Figure 1: Map of the extent of the current coral disease outbreak on the Florida Reef Tract.

Large geographic range.

As of February 2018, over half of the Florida Reef Tract has been affected from Martin County through the upper and middle Keys (approximately 195 linear miles of reef; Figure 1).

Duration of the outbreak.

Nearly half of the stony corals species found on the Florida Reef Tract have been affected. Among the species affected are the primary reef-building corals that are critically important for providing high coral cover, creating habitat for many marine species, and protecting coastlines during storms.

Number of coral species affected.

Nearly half of the stony corals species found on the Florida Reef Tract have been affected. Among the species affected are the primary reef-building corals that are critically important for providing high coral cover, creating habitat for many marine species, and protecting coastlines during storms.

High rates of infection and mortality.

Previous disease outbreaks only affected one or two species of coral and caused partial tissue loss, which allowed for a portion of the coral to survive and recover. However, the current outbreak results in complete mortality and has caused dramatic declines in the populations of multiple coral species.

Response Efforts:

The exact cause and contributing factors for this event will likely take years to identify; however, addressing other known coral stressors (i.e., water quality, turbidity, and sedimentation, etc.) will increase the ability of the corals to recover. Since 2015, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and numerous partners from federal, state, and local governments, universities, non-governmental organizations, and the South Florida community have been communicating regularly and working together on a multi-faceted response effort to:

  • Document prevalence, severity, and impacts associated with the disease outbreak
  • Identify likely pathogens
  • Understand potentially contributory environmental factors
  • Experiment with treatments and other interventions
  • Seek additional capacity and funding to support more comprehensive response efforts
  • Create a region-wide Reef Ambassador and SEAFAN program to facilitate stakeholder assistance

List of Partner Associations Currently Assisting in Various Disease Event Response Activities:

Broward County, Coral Restoration Foundation, Cry of the Water, Florida Aquarium, Florida Atlantic University, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (Florida Coastal Office, Florida Parks Service), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (Fish and Wildlife Research Institute), Florida International University, George Mason University, Keys Marine Laboratory, Martin County, Miami-Dade County, Mote Marine Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Coral Reef Conservation Program, Coral Disease and Health Consortium, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary), National Park Service( Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, South Florida/Caribbean Network), Nova Southeastern University/National Coral Reef Institute, Palm Beach County, Palm Beach County Reef Rescue, Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative, Smithsonian Institution, The Nature Conservancy, United States Geological Survey (National Wildlife Health Center), University of Florida, University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of South Florida

For more detailed information on this disease outbreak and other response efforts, please visit the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s webpage:
https://floridadep.gov/fco/coral/content/florida-reef-tract-coral-disease-outbreak