Reef rejuvenation: antibiotics curing sick coral reef

Reef rejuvenation: antibiotics curing sick coral reef

By Ashmeeta Subra  December 21st, 2023

Divers in the Turks and Caicos Islands have found a method for treating coral reefs suffering from stony coral tissue loss disease using antibiotics paste.


The reef protecting dive squad funded by TC Reef Fund are playing a crucial effort to help protect the planet’s third-largest barrier reef from stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) in the Turks and Caicos Islands. 

Formerly a night watchman on a dive boat, crew leader Reginald Beckford Reginald felt compelled to dive in and explore the underwater world one day during his shift.  

"Once I saw what we had down there, I wanted to help preserve it in any way I could,” he told BBC News

In 2019, the Turks and Caicos Islands became the seventh major reef environment in the Caribbean affected by SCTLD. Since its first emergence almost a decade ago, SCTLD has spread rapidly and is now present in 28 nations worldwide.   

According to Judith Lang of the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA), SCTLD attacks many threatened species, including the Caribbean’s rare and iconic pillar coral. Infected corals die within weeks and the disease has directly contributed to the demise of over 30 coral species.   

In the Turks and Caicos Islands, however, the TC Reef Fund divers have been applying an antibiotic paste to affected corals, halting the spread of the disease and keeping colonies alive long enough for reproduction.   

Researchers at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History discovered the first successful bacterial probiotic that could treat SCTLD, offering a promising solution to concerns about antibiotic resistance and an alternative to amoxicillin.  

"People don't understand corals are animals, they're living creatures, and when they're fighting for their lives because of bleaching they're more susceptible to disease," said Arenthia Baker, a former teacher turned certified fish data scientist and divemaster who also volunteered with the project.  

The Turks and Caicos have been a strong supporter of reef restoration research and the islands feature two in-water coral nurseries and a land-based biobank funded by the John Ellerman Foundation in London.  

Part of reef restoration efforts in the area includes placing healthy corals onto structures crafted by local carpenters (referred to as a ‘coral ark’) to replant their offspring onto the reef. It is hoped this work in addition to halting the spread of SCTLD will help keep the reef ecosystems in relatively good health.  

The team's work also extends to educating island schoolchildren through their visitor centre, fostering hope for future generations to participate in conservation efforts.  

Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.


Positive Actions

Ashmeeta Subra

With background in international relations and marketing communications, Ashmeeta is excited to use her skills to encourage positive environmental actions through Planet Ark. She believes that by taking small actions, we can help make a big difference and be good stewards of our planet. Outside of work, she loves spending time in nature and enjoying downtime at the beach.

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