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A New and Deadly Disease is Destroying More Coral Than Ever Before

Worldly Wednesday

 

A bleached coral reef

The Role of Ocean Coral 

Despite looking like brightly coloured stones, corals are actually animals: The beautiful organisms are combinations of hundreds of thousands of delicate, tiny creatures called polyps. Corals maintain a symbiotic relationship with the algae and plants that grow on them, and in turn make up the largest biological structures on earth. The longevity of some of the most ancient coral reefs rival that of old-growth forests. 

A colourful coral reef

Coral reefs also create habitats for a plethora of other aquatic species: They are home to tens of thousands of species of fish and other plant life, plus an estimated million more undiscovered organisms. Indeed, corals are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world. Coral reefs are also the most biodiverse marine environments, with more species concentrated on the shoals per unit area than any other underwater ecosystem. 

A Deadly Disease

Corals have long been threatened by pollution and habitat destruction. Rising ocean temperatures due to climate change can result in coral bleaching, during which the corals expel the brightly coloured organisms that live within them and become much more susceptible to death.  

Recently, a new and insidious disease has been discovered: Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD). The disease was first documented off the coasts of Florida in 2014, but has since spread throughout the Caribbean, into the Gulf of Mexico, and is now present in over 20 countries worldwide. 

A bleached coral

It's still unknown exactly what causes SCTLD and how it spreads so rapidly throughout ecosystems. As scientists scramble for answers, SCTLD continues to infect at least 22 different species of corals. Typically, within a month of infection, the corals are dead. 

STCLD is a particularly worrying concern. Already threatened by human impact, corals are now especially vulnerable- and because of the integral nature of coral in ocean ecosystems, widespread loss of coral also impacts the fish populations that live there. Local economies that rely on reef tourism through snorkelling and diving will also be negatively impacted. 

The Coral Legend Bracelet

Legend has partnered with Mote Marine Laboratory to help support their mission to protect the ocean and restore coral reefs through their coral restoration program where they grow and plant coral onto depleted reefs.

 Hand underwater with sea turtle wearing Legend Coral Bracelet

 

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