Coordinated Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Monitoring in the Greater Caribbean

Principal Investigator

Coral reefs are biologically diverse and productive ecosystems threatened by natural and anthropogenic stressors at local, regional, and global scales. Reef monitoring programs serve as an essential tool for understanding and quantifying threats, and also provide a basis for managing and mitigating them. The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) Program protocol has been widely employed to develop standardized assessments of reef systems throughout the Greater Caribbean. While the AGRRA protocol does address disease, it was developed before the start of the present outbreak of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD). The same protocol has not been broadly used in the adjacent Gulf of Mexico, which makes comparisons between the two regions difficult even though they share intimate intra- and interregional connectivity.

Standardized and coordinated monitoring efforts are needed as they will provide congruent, long-term datasets that allow us to make informed management decisions to preserve the health and well-being of these systems in a sustainable manner. Coordinated efforts are also needed to react to and address emerging threats like SCTLD since disease pathogens can be quickly transported over long distances by both natural and anthropogenic mechanisms.

HRI is partnering with Unidad Multidisciplinaria de Docencia e Investigación Sisal, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and Kalanbio S.A., in consultation with staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Coral Reef Monitoring Program (NCRMP), to address these needs by organizing a two-day peer exchange. Participants will include coral reef scientists, managers, and practitioners in the Gulf of Mexico and Greater Caribbean region to review coral reef monitoring protocols with an emphasis on SCTLD.

The peer exchange will allow participants to share their own local experiences, which reflect differing realities with respect to funding, technical capabilities, and policy in their home nations. It will provide an opportunity to strengthen existing peer collaboration networks and develop new ones, especially considering issues like SCTLD. The benefit of collaborative knowledge, experience, and expertise over the larger regional area will directly support management efforts throughout, which in turn, will benefit the reef systems given their intimate, shared connectivity.

The peer exchange project will directly build on and leverage three existing and independently funded efforts that include:

  • The multinational development of a preliminary Gulf of Mexico Coral Reef Report Card,
  • A multinational workshop to be held in Mérida, Yucatán to provide training with NOAA’s NCRMP protocols, and
  • A corals-focused Student Workshop on International Coastal and Marine Management (“SWIMM”) involving a diverse group of multinational graduate students and faculty.