Environmental Monitoring

Catching a Coral Killer

First ever case of human-caused marine disease.

Catching a Coral Killer

Coral reefs play an important role in marine ecosystems, so it's concerning to scientists, as well as ocean conservationists, that many coral reefs around the world are in distress or dying off.

"The corals themselves provide three-dimensional structure for the reef, and then the fish and invertebrates inhabit the reef," says Kathryn Sutherland, a Rollins College biology professor who studies the bright orange Elkhorn coral. "These coral reefs provide protection and food for these other organisms."

With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Sutherland has identified the first marine disease caused by humans, and it's proving fatal for Elkhorn coral in Florida.

The disease is White pox. It causes a slowing of growth, followed by white patches of tissue loss that occurs all over the coral colony.

Many such diseases as swine flu, avian flu and HIV are known as zoonotic, moving from animals to humans. Sutherland has identified a marine disease that is a "reverse zoonosis."

"This is the first example of a human pathogen infecting a marine organism," she says.

Glossary

Citation

(2011). Catching a Coral Killer. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/news/51cbf26f7896bb431f6a951c

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