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James M. Cervino cnidaria at
Mon Nov 10 18:30:35 EST 1997



We just received a message from a colleague who is tracking coral bleaching and diseases in Belize.  A substantial presence of Parrot fish was evident from photographs and video that were taken. Colonies of Montastraea and Colpophyllia natans, did not show lesions representing RWD. 

We are looking forward to meeting and collaborating with Dr. E. Weil, Drs. Burt & Lucy Williams and Andrew and Robin Bruckner of the University of Puerto Rico during December 97. Coral epizootics are on the rise in the recent decade, only to be confronted by a very small detected community of marine scientists.  Only working together can we  serve as a catalyst in understanding the devastating behavior and biology of these diseases.   Only working together in the field and sharing the histology and microbiology data can we determine the differences between RWD and Parrot fish predation on reef building corals. 

RESPONSE TO POSTING: "Unlikely a microorganism could modify the pH and maintain an acidity capable of dissolving calcium carbonate in sea water at such a rapid rate" 

ANSWER: Fungi can secrete a wide variety of enzymes which degrade organic materials, especially complex carbohydrates, into smaller molecules that are readily absorbed as nutrients. Let's keep in mind that fungi move through granitic rock, which is composed of felsic igneous and metamorphic rock.  Most fungi thrive at temperatures ranging from 20C to 35C, the pH at which fungi can grow varies widely, ranging from as low as 2.1 to as high as 9.6. Example of a fungus (not the same species as RWD) producing a low pH and eroding calcium carbonate: Aspirgillosis seafan disease.

TEMPERATURE AND RWD: From this year's data analysis of RWD, I have seen an increase in the spreading behavior of the pathogen during higher sea surface temperatures, this correlation between temperature and RWD must be investigated! A recent query for emergency funds has been brought forth to NOAA for emergency funding. 

MICROBIOLOGY: conducted by Dr. Garriet Smith of University of South Carolina.
We have learned that this pathogen is fastidious and was difficult to grow on media.  However, we are confident in the pathogen being fungal of origin. Much more work is needed for the identification of this pathogen. 

HISTOLOGY: conducted by Dr. Ray Hayes of Howard University

Views of the coral tissue show the close association of the mycelium
with the epidermis. The fungal hyphae extend through the mucus and even
in between the epithelial cells. The epidermis itself shows disruption
of integrity as a sheet.  The mucus released from mucoscytes does not
consolidate into a cohesive layer over the epithelium, and in places the
mucous layer is thin or absent.  
The mesoglea appears intact, but cells of the gastrodermis are floating
around in mucus, indicating the separation of these cells from the
epithelium and the complete disruption of the tissues of the coral in
places.  This exposes the skeleton to the fungus or its by-products.

The septa-costae are eroded down to the paliform lobes just above the coenosteum. There is no breakage of the direction within the radial elements of the coralite, which would be evident if there were gouges from teeth marks. The matrix is just eroded, not broken .We understand the damage Parrot fish can inflict on reef building corals in the Caribbean, however, we are seeing two different phenomenon. These two different hypothesis must be compared and understood. 

The intense investigation of RWD has just started in late January 97. Our detected team of researchers have been working countless hours in trying to put fourth the data results for the scientific community to see. I know there are unanswered questions regarding RWD and other coral reef epizootics, however funding for RWD and Yellow Band out side of US waters is zero, immediate help is needed.  We will be in Bonaire during Thanksgiving for data collection. 

All funds are provided for from teaching salaries, and with the help of Kalli DeMeyer of the Bonaire Marine Park and Ginger Garrison of the USGS in St. John. We would also like to thank Bob Shinners of Low Key Watersports of St. John for assisting us in SCUBA and location of RWD and other epizootics, and the DIVE ASSOCIATION in Grenada.   I would also like to thank;  Dr. Esther Peters, and Dr. Laurie Richardson for the collaboration and feedback of coral epizootics in the field today. 

James M. Cervino
Marine Biologist
Global Coral Reef Alliance
124-19 9th ave College Point
New York, NY 11356.

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