Monitoring the coral disease, plague type II, on coral reefs in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
In July 1997, conspicuous white patches of necrotic tissue and bare skeleton began to appear on scleractinian corals in several bays around St. John, US Virgin Islands. Analysis of diseased coral tissue from five different species confirmed the presence of a Sphingomonas-like bacterium, the pathogen for plague type II. To date, 14 species of hard corals have been affected by plague type II around St. John. This disease was monitored at Haulover and Tektite Reefs at depths of 7-12 meters. The study site at Tektite Reef has >50% cover by scleractinian corals with 90% of hard corals being composed of Montastraea annularis. Monthly surveys at Tektite Reef from December 1997 to May 2001 documented new incidence of disease (bare white patches of skeleton) every month with associated loss of living coral and 90.5% of all disease patches occurred on M. annularis. The frequency of disease within transects ranged from 3 to 58%, and the area of disease patches ranged from 0.25 to 9000 cm2. The average percent cover by the disease within 1 m2 ranged from 0.01% (± 0.04 SD) to 1.74% (± 9.08 SD). Photo-monitoring of 28 diseased corals of 9 species begun in September 1997 at Haulover Reef revealed no recovery of diseased portions with all necrotic tissue being overgrown rapidly by turf algae, usually within less than one month. Most coral colonies suffered partial mortality. Very limited recruitment (e.g., of Agaricia spp., Favia spp. and sponges) has been noted on the diseased areas. This coral disease has the potential to cause more loss of live coral on St. John reefs than any other stress to date because it targets the dominant reef building species, M. annularis.
Keywords: Coral disease, plague type II, coral reef monitoring, St. John US Virgin Islands