KEY LARGO — More than 40 coral reef specialists are anticipated in Key Largo this week, however not for the diving.
The multi-agency group goals to spend three days sharing details about the continuing “white plague” coral disease that threatens half of the coral species on the Florida Keys reef.
“It’s bringing together folks doing experiments, both in the field and the laboratory, with an emphasis on understanding what caused the disease, the factors responsible for its spread, and what we can do about it,” mentioned Andy Bruckner, a coral specialist now working as analysis coordinator for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The disease, first recognized off Miami in 2014, usually assaults giant boulder corals that kind the premise of the 360-mile-long Florida Reef Tract.
“We’re focusing on some of the highest priority corals that are really, really important to building productive reef structure,” Bruckner mentioned. “Large corals are vital. The greater they get, the extra they contribute to offering extra offspring for future generations.
“There are a lot of challenges trying to treat diseased coral in the field, which means in the water. You have to be really careful. You can’t just dump chlorine or antiseptics in the water because of the impacts on all the other organisms.”
Treatment methods being examined embrace mixing chlorine with epoxy, then making use of the paste to the discernible fringe of the an infection so it sticks on a coral head.
“In some cases, it’s been pretty effective,” Bruckner mentioned.
How the disease originated stays a mystery. It might be a response to water circumstances or a altering local weather that triggered an imbalance within the pure mixture of micro organism that reside with corals.
“Maybe when the water gets too hot, the ‘bad’ bacteria outcompetes the ‘good’ bacteria and becomes dominant, triggering an outbreak,” Bruckner mentioned.
The present menace to corals “is severe and it has spread quite a bit,” he mentioned, “but it’s important to remember that we’re not losing everything. Certain corals don’t get the disease at all.”
Some of the bigger boulder corals which have been affected have proven indicators of pure restoration.
“Corals are animals. Sometimes they get sick, then survive and start to repopulate,” Bruckner mentioned.
Boulder corals “smaller than a basketball” are extra prone to a whole collapse, he mentioned.
Pioneering coral-nursery efforts by Florida Keys experts with the Coral Restoration Foundation and Mote Marine Laboratory give researchers hope for rebuilding different coral species, Bruckner mentioned.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in February started urging federal companies to take extra motion to save the state’s residing reef that pulls “over 16 million visitors each year [and] estimated to bring in over $6 billion of revenues to the state.”
“I’m glad interagency meetings are getting underway, but what folks in the community want to know is what action plan exists to combat the mysterious coral disease,” Nelson mentioned in a Friday electronic mail.
In addition to the host marine sanctuary, a number of marine companies inside the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will participate within the three-day workshop, together with the National Park Service.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and its analysis arm will participate.
Others on the invitation checklist embrace workers with Keys Marine Lab, Mote Marine, The National Conservancy, the Florida Aquarium and several other universities.
The workshop on the Key Largo Holiday Inn shouldn’t be open to the general public.
“It will be highly technical,” mentioned a sanctuary spokeswoman.