No Bones: Outreach & Education

This is the final post is part of a 4-part series by Biological Oceanography course at Pennsylvania State University taught by Dr. Monica Medina. [See also: Blue Dragons of the Sea , Colorful Cuttlefish and their Creative & amp; New Shrimp Species in the Deep Ocean .

Ever get the chicken pox? It's no fun. Thankfully there are many ways to treat chicken pox and most people do not die because of a chicken pox infection. Corals get infections too, but not by the same "pox" as chicken pox.

A vibrant coral reef with a large number of different species. Source: NOAA. A lot of factors can make a coral feel "under the weather" including raised ocean temperatures, high levels of sediment in the water, and raised acidity levels. While they do not catch pneumonia or strep throat, they do get infected by other types of pathogens, disease causing agents.

Not enough is known about the exact pathogens causing the different coral diseases, so it is an active area of ​​research.

Because the pathogens causing many of the diseases are unidentified, many coral diseases are named after their physical appearance on the coral. This is much the same for human diseases identified prior to their pathogen being known, e.g., Yellow Fever, Measles (deriving from an ancient word meaning "infested"), etc. An example of this type of descriptive naming in coral is Yellow Band Disease, which appears as a yellow band progressing outward over time on a coral colony. Scientists are wildly creative.

Pictured above, a coral colony has recently been infected with Coralline Fungal Disease. These bands or patches progress along a coral in a radial or horizontal fashion.

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As the disease progresses and kills coral tissue, the coral tissue and its colorful symbiont slough off. This exposes the coral's white internal skeleton. The coral colony above has lost its tissue in the white area of ​​the colony, while Black Band Disease progresses to the remaining healthy tissue, the yellowish area on the colony.

With the coral's white skeleton exposed, many different organisms can colonize this substrate. Frequently algae colonize dead tissue, as seen below.

After other critters, such as Christmas tree worms and sponges, bore into the coral skeleton, the coral colony rarely recovers. pathogens that cause many of these diseases have not been identified, several environmental factors have been found to increase incidences of disease including:

- Increased sea surface temperatures


These environmental factors put coral under stress and make the coral colony easier for pathogens to attack. Similar to how are you more likely to get sick when you're cold or sleep deprived.

Because coral reefs are such important ecosystems, sustaining enormous diversity on which humans depend, there is great interest in fighting coral reef decline. You can read about efforts to help corals, including coral gardening, and things you can do to support coral and ocean health at the Smithsonian's Ocean Portal. And see the reading list below for additional information on this fascinating topic.

By Alaina Weinheimer & amp; Shane Pusey [Edited by Allen Collins] Burke, L. and J. Maidens (2004) Reefs at Risk in the Caribbean: Technical Report. World Resource Institute. 1.1: 9-10.

Richardson, Laurie L., (1998) Coral diseases: what is really known? Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 13.11: 438-443. Roder, C., Arif, C., Bayer, T., Aranda, M., Daniels, C., Shibl, A., et al. . & amp; Voolstra, C. R. (2014). Bacterial profiling of White Plague Disease in a comparative coral species framework. The ISME journal, 8 (1), 31-39. Ruiz-Morenol, D., Willis, B.L., Page, A.C., Weil, E., Cróquer, A., Vargas-Angel, B., ... & amp; Harvell, C. D. (2012). Global coral disease prevalence associated with sea temperature anomalies and local factors. Diseases of aquatic organisms, 100, 249-261.

Sweet, M.J., Croquer, A., & amp; Bythell, J.C. (2014). Experimental antibiotic treatment identifies potential pathogens of white band disease in the endangered Caribbean coral Acropora cervicornis. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 281 (1788), 20140094. Vega Thurber, RL, Burkepile, DE, Fuchs, C., Shantz, AA, McMinds, R., & amp; ; Zaneveld, J.R. (2014). Chronic nutrient enrichment increases prevalence and severity of coral disease and bleaching. Global change biology, 20 (2), 544-554.

  • Adam Floyd