After the Nature Foundation St Maarten recently established the presence of ‘Tissue Loss Disease’ on several local coral reefs in October 2018, the Foundation was able to establish through further investigation that in many locations some 90% of coral is either infected or dead. The disease is a relatively new issue that has been plaguing coral reefs in the Atlantic Basin for the last few months. The coral reef disease manifests itself through the creation of white blotches on stony coral, eventually leading to the loss of tissue and eventual death in the coral colony. The disease affects 20 different species of coral and is able to kill colonies within several weeks or months. Unfortunately, the spread and lethality of the disease is being facilitated by poor water quality at several locations surrounding the island.
The Nature Foundations recommends all divers and dive schools to be vigilant to not spread the disease. The disease appears to be water borne and may potentially be spread by divers their gear according the Florida Disease Advisory Committee. They advice scuba divers in the Caribbean and Florida to soak their gear in a 5% chlorine bleach solution for 30 minutes, and rinse well after, especially when moving in between locations. We also advise all divers to be aware of their fins and to not touch any diseased or healthy coral; as you will probably transmit the disease to other corals!
Warning for scuba divers:
1) In order to protect our coral reefs and prevent the spread of the disease a 100% NO TOUCH policy is in effect on all St Maarten dive sites. Scuba divers touching St Maarten coral reefs could risk a fine.
2) All scuba diving gear leaving our island (or being used on another island) should be soaked in a 5% chlorine bleach solution, be rinsed in a lot of fresh water and dried in the sun. This is mandatory, Dive Schools will need to forward this message to their customers, and we recommend visiting divers to use the gear of our dive schools.
3) Please do not use any single-use plastic item on board of the boat or close to the ocean. Single-use plastics are not allowed to enter the Man of War Shoal Marine Protected Area dive. Recently the Nature Foundation also located large amounts of single-use plastics on local reefs, research has found a link between plastic and disease on coral reefs. The likelihood of disease increases from 4 percent to 89 percent when corals are in contact with plastic and it suggests that ocean waters with lots of plastic waste might also carry other pollutants that could also be contributing to higher rates of coral disease; therefore please leave the single-use plastics at the supermarket!
We hope that together we can stop the spread of this disease any further, as the situation is very critical at the moment and we don’t want islands around us to experience the same conditions!!
The disease first appeared in Florida off the Miami-Dade County area in September 2014. The outbreak area has since progressed 175 km to the northern limit of the Florida reef tract and southwest to Looe Key in the Lower Keys. Numerous coral species (except acroporid coral) have been afflicted, disease prevalence has reached 80% of all colonies present at a site, and a number of coral diseases have been observed. Meanwhile, sick and dying corals are found on Jamaican and USVI reefs with similar signs of disease and overlap with the reports from Florida. Also in Mexico, a severe outbreak of coral disease affecting similar species and exhibiting similar patterns as those in Florida has been recorded. Sint Maarten can unfortunately now be added to the list of affect areas for tissue loss disease.
The Nature Foundation is continuously monitoring the disease in St Maarten waters and is counting on your support.