Coral Disease Working Group

Introduction

Disease is one of the most significant and growing threats to tropical coral reefs around the globe. In particular, a multi-year outbreak of stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) has caused unprecedented damage to Atlantic-Caribbean coral reef ecosystems and poses a looming risk to as-yet unaffected reefs in the Indo-Pacific. First observed in South Florida in 2014, SCTLD is characterized by rapid spread, rapid tissue loss, and high mortality rates within certain species. While coral disease occurs naturally in reef ecosystems, with a normal background disease rate of 2-3% of corals on a reef, SCTLD may result in 66-95% prevalence, particularly in highly susceptible species. Some portions of Florida’s Coral Reef have suffered a loss of more than 40% in coral cover since the disease was first detected. Coordinated, strategic action is needed to address the grave and mounting threat posed by the continued spread of SCTLD and other coral diseases.

In response to the growing threat posed by coral disease, the USCRTF Coral Disease Working Group will provide support for local response, mitigation, and prevention efforts, and enhance coordination among activities occurring at the national level. Complementing the role of the Coral Disease and Health Consortium, which facilitates collaboration among the scientific community, the group will support coordination among federal agencies and jurisdictions. The newly formed Coral Disease Working Group will develop clear objectives, implement action-oriented initiatives, and build upon existing SCTLD response partnerships to facilitate communication across agencies and jurisdictions, including prevention of the spread of SCTLD to Pacific coral reefs.

Because SCTLD is unprecedented in its impact on coral reef ecosystems, the focus of the group for the time being will be that particular disease. However, by setting up and formalizing this working group, we are providing a mechanism to enable USCRTF level action in response to future coral diseases as they arise.

 

Approach

  • Working group efforts will focus on disease response, prevention, preparedness, and control in both affected and vulnerable jurisdictions, recognizing the inherent connection between environmental stressors and coral disease. The Working Group will collaborate and coordinate efforts with other USCRTF working groups that more directly address enabling environmental conditions such as water quality and climate change.
  • Working group efforts will focus on U.S. states, territories, and freely associated states in terms of products, actions, and funding and contribute to international coral disease efforts through collaboration and coordination with existing groups and institutions.
  • Working group efforts will focus primarily on management action to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and control SCTLD. When research related activities are considered, there will be an emphasis on management implications and the role of research in informing management action.

 

Objectives

Obj 1. Facilitate Effective Collaboration and Communication on Coral Disease Status and Response Efforts Among Federal Agencies and Jurisdictions:

  • Keep USCRTF and Steering Committee members informed of the status of SCTLD in U.S. jurisdictions, ongoing efforts to understand and respond to this threat, and resources needed to support these efforts. Consider strategies to enhance engagement on SCTLD, focusing on specific actions that can be taken by the Task Force, member agencies, and jurisdictions in support of SCTLD response and prevention.
  • Standardize messaging where possible, producing and circulating educational materials for the public and decision makers. Develop communication strategies that emphasize the value of addressing SCTLD and the tangible impacts of response and prevention efforts and ensure continued communication with agency leadership.
  • Serve as a venue for communication, coordination, and sharing of information, resources, and experience regarding SCTLD among jurisdictional and federal management entities across the U.S. coral jurisdictions, developing a standardized system for sharing informational resources and updates.

Obj 2. Build Capacity for Coral Disease Prevention, Preparedness, and Response:

  • Work with USCRTF agencies to align agency resources (technical and financial) with on-the-ground needs in jurisdictions and promote interagency collaboration on disease prevention and response; promote increased effort of coral management agencies to build internal capacity to address disease. Identify and share additional funding and resourcing opportunities to support disease prevention and response efforts.
  • Share lessons learned from across jurisdictions to inform response and prevention efforts (i.e. sharing outcomes from Florida's experience with coral rescue), developing clearly articulated recommendations, best practices, and resource estimates. Lessons learned should inform emergency and rapid response and the development of mechanisms for elevating the need to react and respond quickly to emerging issues.
  • Support surveillance, identification, and rapid response efforts in as-yet-unaffected regions in the Caribbean and Pacific by collating information on regulatory needs for response activities, developing and distributing materials to support SCTLD surveillance, and supporting the establishment of prevention and response plans in the Pacific.

Obj 3. Prevent the Transmission of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease

  • Coordinate with efforts being led by the Environmental Protection Agency, US Coast Guard, NOAA and other agencies and partners to better understand and mitigate potential vectors that contribute to the transmission of SCTLD and other coral diseases.
  • Identify and advance initiatives that prevent the transmission of SCTLD, including the enforcement of existing federal and jurisdictional-level ballast water regulations; communication and education on ballast water management best management practices; and identifying 'ports of concern' and providing shipping companies with maps of nearby coral reefs to avoid.
  • Consider various policy and regulatory options that could help prevent the further spread of SCTLD both within affected and to vulnerable jurisdictions.

 

Initiatives

Initiative 1: Task Force Communication & Collaboration - Facilitate collaboration and communication among federal agencies and jurisdictions

  • Host an annual SCTLD workshop/symposium held among federal and jurisdictional agencies focused on sharing successes, failures and needs in prevention and response in conjunction with USCRTF meetings.
  • Share existing informational materials related to SCTLD with the CRTF such as a case definition, prospectus (being developed by Florida Sea Grant), website, Newsletter, Factsheets, recorded webinars, and videos.

Initiative 2: National Priorities - Develop national SCTLD priorities, track coral disease policies and legislation, and collate information on funding opportunities

  • Develop National SCTLD Priorities, a succinct, targeted list of priority actions that are most needed to support an effective national approach to SCTLD prevention and response efforts.
  • Track coral disease-relevant federal and jurisdiction level legislation, executive orders, and other policies and share with the Working Group and other relevant parties.
  • Identify and compile funding opportunities to support disease response and prevention. Identify and implement strategies to enhance funding for SCTLD response, preparedness, and prevention efforts.

Initiative 3: Affected Jurisdiction Team- Build capacity for coral disease response in affected jurisdictions

  • Provide targeted technical and financial resources and support for enhancing on-the-ground capacity for disease response in affected jurisdictions.

Initiative 4: Pacific Preparedness Team - Build capacity for coral disease preparedness in unaffected jurisdictions

  • Provide targeted technical and financial resources, training, and support for enhancing on-the-ground capacity for disease response and prevention in unaffected jurisdictions.

Initiative 5: Transmission Team - Prevent the transmission of SCTLD

  • Compile existing guidelines for preventing the transmission of SCTLD along US coral reefs via vessels and other human activity. Develop a strategy for distributing guidelines to relevant parties and increasing the implementation of compliance with these guidelines.
  • Evaluate existing jurisdictional and federal mechanisms (i.e., regulatory, compliance) related to the transmission of SCTLD and develop recommendations for how the mechanisms can be applied to prevent the spread of SCTLD.
  • Convene a workshop on existing biosecurity legislation and regulations and draft guidance for jurisdictions in crafting SCTLD biosecurity regulations.