Interview: Fast-spreading mystery disease damages up to half coral species in Mexican Caribbean-Xinhua

Interview: Fast-spreading mystery disease damages up to half coral species in Mexican Caribbean

Source: Xinhua| 2022-07-31 10:37:30|Editor:

MEXICO CITY, July 30 (Xinhua) -- The Mexican Caribbean is facing an ecological catastrophe due to a contagious disease that has damaged up to 50 percent of marine coral species, said Lorenzo Alvarez Filip, a researcher from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

"This is a disease of tissue loss in hard corals, whose pathogen is still unknown, but it is associated with intense human activity in the region, with hotels, docks, wastewater and its poor treatment," Alvarez, who is a marine scientist at the Reef Systems Unit in Puerto Morelos in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, told Xinhua recently.

The disease, which is highly contagious and can kill coral colonies in days or weeks, was first detected off the coast of Miami, Florida in the United States in 2014, Alvarez said.

"At the moment, the disease has spread throughout the Mexican Caribbean. In the Caribbean Sea, there are approximately 50 species of coral; this disease has attacked half of them -- that is, from 20 to 25. It is lethal, it is changing ecology," he added.

Among the most affected species are pillar, labyrinth, and brain coral, whose mortality rate is greater than 90 percent.

Over the course of two months, the disease spread from the Mexican island of Cozumel to places such as Belize, Honduras, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, and Alvarez said it could continue to spread throughout the Caribbean Sea or even farther.

"What is known is that locally, it is very easy for each organism to become infected through water, since that same liquid is carrying the disease from one place to another at an accelerated rate," he said.

Corals are organisms that serve as natural barriers against the impact of hurricanes and storms, protecting beaches.

They are also an important source of food for communities along the coasts and could generate income in tourism and fishing industries.

To avoid mass extinction, Alvarez recommended efforts to recover the coral population that has already been lost. "We can keep genetic material frozen to prevent its loss and, after environmental conditions improve, replant it," he said.

In addition, the scientist called on people who visit coral reefs to "be responsible for every action they take on the beaches and in the Caribbean Sea" and to take care of the planet's flora and fauna.

Mexico is one of the 12 most biologically diverse countries due to the large number of terrestrial, aquatic, and marine species that live within its territory, according to a study by Mexican National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity.