Neighborhood Watch for Black Band Disease

Black band disease of corals is a continuing issue in the long term survival and stability of reefs. Researchers working in Eilat, within the Red Sea, published an intriguing paper today that highlights the transmission of the disease throughout a season by closely observing the spatial patterns of infection. Not only did they show that increasing water temperatures correlate with the disease onset, they found that close contact – but not necessarily direct contact – with infected corals is an important part of the disease process.

Researchers tested a waterborne transmission hypothesis as well by excluding any potential invertebrate vectors (ie. worms, snails, etc) and found that the pathogen for black-band disease may indeed be traveling between corals via water. Plus, by looking at the disease patterns across more than one season, their research hints that infected corals that survive one season might be reservoirs for the disease and seem to play a role in fresh outbreaks in the next cycle.

I like that they published, alongside their ideas, alternative hypotheses to explain the observed patterns for BBD in their study site. While some of their findings might seem logical and intuitive (if you’re close to infected people you tend to get the common cold or flu, for example) its still important to understand as much as we can about marine diseases. Our ability to manage corals in a future MPA setting might rely upon our knowledge of natural disease patterns and a keen understanding of how they initiate, spread, and silence themselves in a given cycle.