Ocean warming suspected as key factor in outbreaks
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Mapping the spread of coral diseases in the Caribbean, a pair of Florida researchers has concluded that the outbreaks are stress related — most likely due to increasing ocean temperatures.
Mapping provides clues about the origin of diseases and how rapidly diseases can spread. Health officials have been using similar studies to trace human diseases at least since a deadly cholera outbreak in London in 1854, explained Mote Marine Lab researcher Erinn Muller.
“When diseases cluster they are usually contagious and are spreading rapidly. When they don’t cluster, environmental stress is usually the cause,” Muller said.
Marine diseases are killing coral populations all over the world, threatening the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on reefs for food and protection from storms.
Along with Florida Institute of Technology biologist Robert van Woesik, Muller mapped the clustering of three coral diseases in the Caribbean and concluded that they are stress-related rather than contagious.
“These coral diseases in the Caribbean are likely caused by stress,” said van Woesik, “and that stress is the warming seas that are the result of climate change.” The researchers suspect the corals’ immune systems are compromised by increasing water temperatures, making them more susceptible to infection.
“We more easily catch a cold when we are stressed, and corals are likewise responding to stress by getting sick,” said van Woesik. “The ocean will continue to warm, increasing the likelihood of coral diseases.”
The study results appear in the October 9 issue of Global Change Biology.