The Mexican Caribbean is beginning to feel the invasion of the disease that causes tissue loss and death of stony corals which have affected other parts of the world, particularly Florida, USA. The Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease was first observed in the region of Miami in 2014 which quickly escalated to the Florida Reef Tract and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. During the first quarter of 2019, the coral outbreak has stretched to the outer reefs off Key West and sadly, a similar outbreak is now affecting some parts of Mexico such as Quintana Roo which contains the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (SAM).
The disease which affects 20 out of 45 species of corals reefs are said to be caused by bacteria which can be spread to other corals through direct contact and water flow. With other environmental challenges such as climate change, water pollution, indiscriminate fishing, human interaction pressures, and now a coral disease outbreak, our reefs certainly need all the help they can get.
What can divers do to help?
Scientists are currently studying tissue samples to determine the disease agent but while further studies are being done, we can do our part to contribute to the solution. Since there is a great possibility of disease transmission via direct contact, divers and snorkelers are being urged to help prevent the disease from affecting healthy corals by following these recommended guidelines.
Disinfect your dive gear after each dive
Following each dive, the first thing to do is to remove debris and sediments from your dive gear. Then upon returning to the shore, you can sanitize non-sensitive gear that came in contact with corals using a bleach solution or quaternary ammonium solution.
For BCD internal bladders, you can pour half a liter of solution into the mouthpiece of the exhaust hose while pressing down the exhaust button. Next, inflate the BC, and carefully twist it in all directions and let it rest for 10 minutes before rising two times with fresh water. You can clean the rest of your dive gear by washing it with freshwater and antibacterial soap.
After cleaning, make sure that you dispose of the solution properly and rinse the sink or other areas with soap and water. Never throw the solution into the ocean, other bodies of water, or storm drain.
Report condition of the corals
The next time you go diving, make it a point to closely observe the corals that you encounter by taking note of unusual discoloration, tissue loss, and signs of bleaching. You can share your sightings to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP) which monitors coral reef areas in the U.S. Pacific, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. Your observations can help ongoing scientific research about the coral outbreak and identify both healthy and affected areas.
Ease the stress on the marine environment
Proper discipline is a big factor in helping relieve stress on the world’s oceans and seas. When you go snorkeling or diving, avoid anchoring your boat on the reef because it can damage and kill corals. Practice safe boating by looking for a sandy bottom or using mooring buoys if possible.
Did you know that some commercially available sunscreens contain harmful chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate (commonly used UV blockers) that can hurt marine life? Choose reef-safe sunscreens that use natural ingredients or better yet, cut down on sunscreen by using swimwear with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) or long-sleeved shirt or rash guard to prevent sunburn.
What we do on land affects the ocean. A lot of our trash eventually find their way to big bodies of water and marine debris does not only harm coral reefs but the creatures that live underwater. You can help minimize waste by recycling, upcycling, and disposing of trash properly.
Spread the word
Although coral reefs comprise less than one percent of the Earth’s surface, they provide homes to about 25 percent of marine fish. The threat of a disease destroying our precious corals is a serious matter and to better understand the situation, you can make an effort to learn more about corals and how to protect them through online sources like NOAA. By educating ourselves about the marine environment, we can perceive the challenges that our oceans and seas face and what we can do to help. We can share this information with family, friends, and colleagues to encourage them to lend a helping hand.
We also encourage you to participate in the clean-up dives in Dubai and Fujairah that we organize in an effort to keep the waters of UAE clean and safe for swimming, snorkeling, diving, and other water sports.