Monday, May 21, 2018
Top News App

Mysterious ‘white plague’ threatens South Florida coral reefs

Associated Press

MIAMI — A mysterious epidemic continues to sweep South Florida’s reefs, transforming corals into lifeless skeletons and threatening undersea structures that support tourism, provide hurricane protection and serve as homes to a vast range of marine life.

Called white plague, white blotch and other names, depending on the pattern of damaged or destroyed tissue, the disease has infected more than 20 South Florida coral species from the Middle Keys through Palm Beach County, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The Sun-Sentinel reports that on the reefs running from mid-Miami-Dade County through Martin County, scientists have observed a 35 percent loss of reef-building coral.

"The reef is in a state of emergency," said Jennifer Stein, South Florida marine conservation coordinator for the Nature Conservancy. "It needs a lot of attention, a lot of research, a lot of focus, especially with this disease."

The disease arose during a worldwide, three-year coral catastrophe called bleaching, in which unusually warm ocean water led many corals to expel the piece of algae that provided them with color and gave them a source of nutrition through photosynthesis. Although coral can recover from bleaching, the ordeal weakens them and makes them vulnerable to disease.

Despite occupying only a tiny fraction of the footprint of the world’s oceans, coral reefs provide habitat for about a quarter of the world’s marine species. South Florida’s reefs, the only near-shore reefs in the continental United States, draw thousands of visitors for fishing, diving and snorkeling and provide homes to fish, crabs, lobsters, sponges, sea turtles and other creatures.

Since appearing in South Florida in late 2014, as corals were weakened by bleaching, the epidemic has spread quickly. A 35 percent loss of stony coral has taken place off the South Florida coast north of the Keys, judging from the losses seen at sites monitored by Nova Southeastern University, said David Gilliam, assistant professor of marine and environmental science at the university’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography.

"Stony corals are what creates the reef," he said. "If you don’t have stony corals, you won’t have continued reef growth. If the reef isn’t growing, it’s slowly dissolving. Without growth, the coral will get lost, and that will affect the entire community, from reef fishes down to lobsters."

Some species have virtually disappeared. Death claimed all but one of 65 colonies of pillar coral being monitored from central Miami-Dade County to southern Palm Beach County, Gilliam said.

Scientists don’t know whether the disease is caused by a bacteria, virus, fungus or other pathogen. They don’t know why it infects certain species and not others. They don’t know how to stop it. The state is spending $1 million this year to study it and the water conditions that surround it, with another $1 million coming next year, according to DEP.

Comments
The Daystarter: Lightning back in DC for Game 6; crisscross interchange comes to I-75; persistent rain continues; Scott omits mentions of Trump in speeches

The Daystarter: Lightning back in DC for Game 6; crisscross interchange comes to I-75; persistent rain continues; Scott omits mentions of Trump in speeches

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• The week ahead sees rain and storm chances every day with highs in the lower to middle 80s, according to the National Weather Service. • As you head out for your morning commute, chec...
Updated: 5 minutes ago
Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

A day after England’s royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, St. Petersburg hosted a royal celebration of its own. Among the estimated 500 graduates to receive an Eckerd College diploma at Sunday’s graduation ceremony held...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Traffic lights restored at Pinellas Park intersection

Traffic lights restored at Pinellas Park intersection

PINELLAS PARK — Traffic lights have been restored at the intersection of 66th Street N and Park Boulevard, police said. About 5:45 p.m., Pinellas Park Police announced the outage. 
Updated: 27 minutes ago
France takes a step forward in fighting catcallers but falls short on setting age of consent

France takes a step forward in fighting catcallers but falls short on setting age of consent

Men who whistle and catcall women on the streets of France may soon face stiff punishment.On Wednesday, lawmakers in the National Assembly - France’s lower house of Parliament - passed measures to curb sexual violence. Among them: People caught haras...
Published: 05/20/18
‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Published: 05/20/18
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Published: 05/20/18
Family, friends recall shooting victims’ optimism, humor

Family, friends recall shooting victims’ optimism, humor

SANTA FE, Texas — A 17-year-old student looking forward to celebrating his family's new swimming pool and a substitute teacher whose home frequently hosted family gatherings were among the 10 people killed in a mass shooting at a Texas high sch...
Published: 05/20/18

Monday’s letters: Focusing on the mental state of shooters misses the point

Texas high school shooting | May 18Criminals, angry people kill peopleSchool shootings are a distinctly American phenomenon. But shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1 percent of all yearly gun-related homicides in ...
Updated: 12 minutes ago

Up to two tons of fertilizer spilled into channel leading to Tampa Bay, Kinder Morgan reports to state

TAMPA — As much as two tons of fertilizer accidentally spilled into a channel that leads to the upper part of Tampa Bay, according to a report sent Friday night to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Mil...
Published: 05/19/18
Updated: 05/20/18
Burglary suspect jumps into Hillsborough canal to escape deputies, officials say

Burglary suspect jumps into Hillsborough canal to escape deputies, officials say

TAMPA — After a botched burglary, a fleeing suspect jumped into a canal to escape deputies Saturday afternoon, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The person has not yet been identified. The suspect tried to break into a business on...
Published: 05/19/18