Coral Reef Disease

Coral disease is now one of the major causes of reef degradation and coral mortality. First reported on reefs in the Florida Keys and Caribbean in the 1970s, black band disease was first recorded in Hawaii in 1994.

USGS scientists are employing microarray technology to characterize microbial communities in diseased and healthy coral species to understand coral disease processes and causes. Microarray technology allows scientists to get a taxonomic overview of the shifts in microbial communities between healthy and diseased corals, between species of corals, and between different geographic areas. Scientists also are comparing methods of preserving environmental DNA samples of corals.

Cooperative Research

Scientific Contributions — National Wildlife Health Center Honolulu Field Station

Coral Reef Ecosystem Studies (CREST) — St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center

Coral Reefs Information — National Wildlife Health Center

Reefs at Risk — Pacific Coral Reefs Website

Effects of African Dust on Coral Reefs and Human Health — St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center

Coral Microbial Ecology — St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center

DISCOVRE: Diversity, Systematics and Connectivity of Vulnerable Reef Ecosystems Project — St. Petersburg Coastal and Marine Science Center


Image of same coral head, in 1988 (top) and 1998

Video Podcast

Corals: A 50-Year Photographic Record of Changes

This video podcast highlights 50 years of photographic documentation of coral reefs in the Florida Keys. The photographs show 5 decades of changes that have taken place in both the size and the types of corals that were present at several coral reef sites from the early 1960s to today. The images capture events such as the appearance of coral disease and the die off of coral species like staghorn in the region.

  • Publications

  • Science to Support Aquatic Animal Health

    Healthy aquatic ecosystems are home to a diversity of plants, invertebrates, fish and wildlife. Aquatic animal populations face unprecedented threats to their health and survival from climate change, water shortages, habitat alteration, invasive species and environmental contaminants. These environmental stressors can directly impact the prevalence and severity of disease in...

    USGS Fact Sheet 2016-3091, 2 p.

  • First Record of Black Band Disease in the Hawaiian Archipelago: Response, Outbreak Status, Virulence, and a Method of Treatment

    A high number of coral colonies, Montipora spp., with progressive tissue loss were reported from the north shore of Kaua‘i by a member of the Eyes of the Reef volunteer reporting network. The disease has a distinct lesion (semi-circular pattern of tissue loss with an adjacent dark band) that was first observed in Hanalei Bay, Kaua‘i in 2004. The disease, initially termed Montipora banded tissue loss, appeared grossly similar to black band disease (BBD), which affects corals worldwide.

    PLoS ONE, v. 10, no. 13, March 16, 2015

  • A comparison between boat-based and diver-based methods for quantifying coral bleaching:

    Recent increases in both the frequency and severity of coral bleaching events have spurred numerous surveys to quantify the immediate impacts and monitor the subsequent community response. Most of these efforts utilize conventional diver-based methods, which are inherently time-consuming, expensive, and limited in spatial scope unless they deploy large teams of scientifically-trained divers. In this study, we evaluated the effectiveness of the Along-Track Reef Imaging System (ATRIS), an automated image-acquisition technology, for assessing a moderate bleaching event that occurred in the summer of 2011 in the Florida Keys.

    Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, v. 467, June 2015

  • Nine microsatellite loci developed from the octocoral, Paragorgia arborea:

    Paragorgia arborea, or bubblegum coral, occurs in continental slope habitats worldwide, which are increasingly threatened by human activities such as energy development and fisheries practices. From 101 putative loci screened, nine microsatellite markers were developed from samples taken from Baltimore canyon in the western North Atlantic Ocean. The number of alleles ranged from two to thirteen per locus and each displayed equilibrium. These nuclear resources will help further research on population connectivity in threatened coral species where mitochondrial markers are known to lack fine-scale genetic diversity.

    Conservation Genetics Resources, March 2015