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Have you heard? 

In the era of COVID-19, Caribbean coral reefs are facing an epidemic of their own: Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease.

First discovered off the coast of Florida in 2014, this new lethal disease travels fast (up to 50 metres per day), and has already reached The Bahamas, killing thousands of corals in its wake. To determine the extent of its spread, PIMS visited many coral reefs off Grand Bahama and Abaco last week.

One site that stood out was the beautiful Sandy Point Reef off South Abaco, known for its underwater tunnel, and swirling schools of grunts surrounded by a gorgonian forest.

The best part?

"We saw no traces of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease," said Dr. Craig Dahlgren, Executive Director of PIMS. "After seeing it on many reefs over the past few days, I was ecstatic."

Indeed, the majority of reefs we visited off Grand Bahama were infected with the new tissue loss disease, and we observed record numbers of dead pillar coral and brain coral colonies.

"That's why it was so nice to see healthy symmetrical brain corals, and also pillar corals at Sandy Point," said Dr. Valeria Pizarro, PIMS' Senior Scientist. "These have become really rare species on some coral reefs."

Sadly, on reefs with high rates of infection, Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease will likely cause local extinctions of these iconic Caribbean species.

Near Nassau, this symmetrical brain coral colony is one of many suffering from Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. In the first photo (left), the coral is healthy. One month later (right) nearly half of the coral is dead because of this novel disease.

How can you help?

1- Just like washing your hands, we can all do our part to stop the spread of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. If you're SCUBA diving in the Caribbean, remember to disinfect your gear after each dive to prevent the accidental transmission of this disease between reefs. Sodium percarbonate mixed with seawater works well for this. Your neoprene gear in particular – like wetsuits and booties – can harbor harmful bacteria and microorganisms for long periods of time.

2- If you see Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease in The Bahamas, report it here.

3- Lastly, consider joining the Reef Rescue Network! We work with dive shops across the Caribbean to empower citizen scientists (like you!) to outplant Critically Endangered corals onto reefs, creating more diversity and fish habitat in the process.

We were lucky enough to see healthy pillar corals (above; Dendrogyra cylindus) at Sandy Point Reef, with no signs of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease.