Crisis on the Reef: Addressing Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease at the SCTLD Conclave

Across the Caribbean region we are experiencing a coral crisis requiring urgent action to save our coral reefs. There is a deadly disease threatening coral reefs in The Bahamas, called Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD). This is the worst coral disease ever documented, it spreads much faster than any other disease and can kill more than half of corals in areas where it is present in just a few weeks.

‍Coral reefs are vital to The Bahamas as they support fisheries for food, and tourism which creates jobs and drives the economy. They also provide coastal communities with protection against storm damage that occurs during hurricanes.

‍The Perry Institute for Marine Science (PIMS), in conjunction with government ministries and other conservation groups, is deeply concerned about the potential impact of the SCTLD on the marine environment, fisheries, and the local economy which is directly supported by coral reefs. In response to the precarious threat SCTLD poses to coral reefs, a meeting was organized in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Planning & Protection (DEPP) and PIMS’ Coral Response Team. The goal of this meeting was to unite conservation groups with the shared objective of fighting the spread of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease in The Bahamas.

The SCTLD Conclave was led by DEPP’s Director Dr. Rhianna Neely-Murphy and PIMS’ Senior Coral Scientist Dr. Valeria Pizarro. The event began with opening remarks issued by Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources the Honorable Vaughn Miller, which sparked a sense of urgency and focus on countering the effects of this deadly disease- described to be the most immediate threat to corals, moreso the Bahamian economy, livelihood and culture.

‍Our Executive Director, Dr. Craig Dahlgren presented an overview of SCTLD in The Bahamas, followed by the steps PIMS is taking to treat the disease in The Bahamas by Meghyn Fountain, the Coral Response Team’s Research Technician. Meghyn shed light on the challenges and hurdles faced during a typical SCTLD treatment day and stressed the significance of recruiting skilled professionals from across The Bahamas to combat the disease’s countrywide spread.

Updates on efforts to tackle SCTLD were presented by in-country partners including:
-Dr. Gittens from the Department of Marine Resource
-Falon Cartwright, Director of Science & Policy from The Bahamas National Trust
-Frederick Arnett, Coral Projects Specialist, from The Nature Conservancy
-Bradley Watson, Conservation Program Manager, from Disney

During a morning break out session our expert participants were asked to address these two questions:
What do we need to save Bahamian coral reefs from SCTLD?
How can we build institutional capacity to tackle SCTLD?

In attendance were representatives from the Department of Environmental Planning & Protection, Department of Marine Resources and various organizations and partners, including Bahamas National Trust, Coral Vita Limited, Atlantis, Disney, and The Nature Conservancy. The meeting was also attended by leaders in education from the University of the Bahamas and Bahamas Agricultural & Marine Science Institute (BAMSI) and notable funders like the McPike-Zima Foundation and Bahamas Protected Areas Fund (BPAF). Additionally, the Department of Environmental Planning & Protection, Department of Marine Resources, and Reef Response Team were present at the meeting.

The SCTLD Conclave shared information through open discussion on the actions being taken by each organization to study, monitor and fight SCTLD, determine what more needs to be done, and ultimately share information with DEPP so they can create a list of policy recommendations to be presented to the Bahamian government. Break out groups were strategically formed based on areas of speciality, and in them conversations were focused on legislative action, restoration & research, education & outreach, and funding – all essential pieces of the puzzle.

‍DEPP and PIMS aim to promote awareness of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease through events such as the SCTLD Conclave, and enhance response capabilities to safeguard coral reefs for future generations in The Bahamas.

Photos capture open discussion among participants tasked with finding solutions and strategic planning of efforts to fight SCTLD.

‍Written by Teni Burrows & Candice Brittain

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