An Overview on Coral Reef Diseases

Global disease has the ability to destroy on a world wide scale. This alarming fact is even more devastating when disease attacks the delicate balance of complex life within the oceans’ coral reefs.

The frameworks of a reef’s ecosystem are the structural formation of living organism comprised of calcium carbonate in microscopic layers of living cells known as coral. This living reef in turns provides both food and shelter for a vast array of sea life dependent on the coral life for their very survival. Any change in the water clarity, temperatures, saline and light levels plays a critical role in the health of the framework and the organisms’ ability to stay healthy.

Human interference by way of pollutants and contaminants in and near the water affect the stability and quality and in turn the impairment and the ability to fight disease among reef life. Parasitic disease via foreign organisms invading the reef are one threat to the coral reef sustainability, spreading virus, bacteria, fungi, along with worms and mites. Disease can also strike through non-infectious means such as poor nutrition, genetic mutations and abnormal cell growth, exposure to cell damaging factors such as chemical, light and temperature changes. Any environmental change can compromise the immune system and reproductive system of all life in the reef and threaten existence.

Changes and stresses on the reef bring disease with scientist observing a significant increase in disease among the reef building corals with many causes being cited as possible factor with no pinpoint -research or one definite cause not being solidified. Coral Bleaching is a prime disease brought on by increased sea temperatures couples with elevated light affecting the skeletal growth and reproductive activity within a coral colony. Black-band Disease and Red-band Disease both bring a bacterial organism in a crescent-shaped band that passes over a coral colony literally consuming the live coral and leaving nothing but bare skeletons in its wake easily then colonized by algae and other organisms. White-band Disease, known to occur throughout the Caribbean is a sloughing pealing disease that works from the branches to the tips destroying the coral skeleton. Dark Spot Diseases, White Pox, Plaque and Blotch diseases are also problematic to the corals showing visual disease, discoloured tissues, exposed skeleton and causing tissue mortality, colonization by algae, and often death within the reef of not only the corals but the organisms that feed off the life within.

The cohabitating relationship of all life in a coral reef is a delicate balancing act. When disease strikes it has the ability to cripple the reef in an all encompassing way. The intricate interaction of life on the reef is being gravely affected by the increase of disease and health on the world’s precious coral reefs.