Please invest in Our Daily Planet today, by making a one time or monthly contribution.
We do not charge our readers a subscription fee for our content. We want to continue to grow our readership, particularly among millennials and public servants. Voluntary contributions from readers will help us employ interns and freelance journalists, expand our content, and reach a larger audience.
Scientists investigating the highly destructive stony coral disease, which has infected reefs in South Florida and the Caribbean, have zeroed in on a culprit behind the unpredictable spread of the disease: ballast water from big ships. As WGCU reported, investigators are now poring over shipping records housed at the Smithsonian to confirm the connection and better contain it.
In September 2014, researchers began noticing that certain stony corals along the Florida Reef Tract weren’t doing well. The Florida Reef Tract stretches approximately 360 miles in an arc along the Florida Keys and southeastern Florida.
Off Virginia Key, in Miami-Dade County, corals were showing “small circular or irregular patches of white, exposed skeleton devoid of tissue,” explains Dr. Andy Bruckner, research coordinator for Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
From there, the tissue would slough off, leaving the stark white skeleton exposed until algae colonized it. The disease, he explains, “radiates across the colony and outward.”
Solving the Mystery: WGCU explained that coral biologists got their first inkling that stony coral disease might be unlike other diseases that waxed and waned with temperatures when it lasted nonstop through the winter seasons. They confirmed it was waterborne and suspected it was caused by a bacteria. However, they struggled to determine other factors including where it came from.
Then, just recently, stony coral disease spread to the U.S. Virgin Islands after a ship there made an unauthorized release of ballast.
What is Ballast Water?According to the USDA, ballast water is one of the major pathways for the introduction of nonindigenous marine species as well as toxins and disease. Ballast water is fresh or saltwater held in the ballast tanks and cargo holds of ships. It is used to provide stability and maneuverability during a voyage when ships are not carrying cargo, not carrying heavy enough cargo, or when more stability is required due to rough seas.
Why This Matters: By 2024, ships will be required to have onboard treatment systems to clean water under a 2004 treaty administered by the International Maritime Organization. However, scientists must test if these treatment systems are capable of killing story coral disease. The disease, unlike coral bleaching, kills corals entirely so that they cannot come back.
In countries like the U.S., the Coast Guard can enforce that ships release ballast water far enough offshore so as not to disrupt ecosystems. However, in poorer nations like that of the Caribbean, a lack of resources can prevent them from enforcing these rules. Those countries could also suffer disproportionately because they rely so heavily on their reefs for both tourism and food.
by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer Today marks the last day of Capitol Hill Ocean Week. Don’t miss today’s talks on justice and equity as well as the CHOW Closing Plenary. Yesterday, experts got busy discussing international policy, inclusivity, and uplifting communities. Global ocean policy will play a significant role in halting catastrophic temperature rise, but we must […]
by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer Today kicks of Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2021 (CHOW), an annual, three-day event organized by the National Marine Sanctuary foundation that encourages activists worldwide to engage in dialogue about sustaining the health of our oceans and Great Lakes. This year, CHOW hopes to shine a light on the role of environmental justice and […]
by Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer Capitol Hill Ocean Week is in full swing, and panelists from the government, private sector, and nonprofits are bringing their expertise to discuss significant issues facing our oceans and coastal communities. Yesterday, food security and justice were on the table, and panelists dove into incorporating traditional fisheries management strategies […]
Our Daily Planet is your daily dose of the stories shaping our world and the ways that you can take action. From the climate crisis to the protection of biodiversity, if these issues matter to you then please subscribe & stay informed!
Your privacy is Important! We promise never to use your email address to send you spam or advertisements.