[Coral-List] Needed: Description of White Plagues One and Two

Eric Borneman eborneman at uh.edu
Tue Jul 4 10:04:40 EDT 2006

Dear Melissa and Etichscuba

All you can say in the field is that you have observed corals with  
signs of a white plague-like condition or a white syndrome. The  
etiology is not well enough understood when then signs of disease are  
simply a loss of tissue, generally from the margins or base of a  
colony. To even call it WPII would require that you collect samples  
and determine if there are Aurantimonas bacteria associated with the  

I have slide upon slide of coral diseases that look like white  
plague, type I, II, III, white syndromes, white band types i and II,  
white pox, white this, white that.  Basically the coral tissue is  
dying, is bleached and dying, or has been eaten. There are many  
possible reasons and the same or similar gross or field-observable  
signs occur in the Atlantic, the Indo-Pacific, the Red Sea. The  
etiology is barely known (and with questionable data across time and  
space) for any of them, and now we know that even carbon can cause  
similar signs (Kuntz et al 2005).

Etichscuba said he saw the exact same thing. Snails, ciliates,  
flatwoms, Hermodice, nudibranchs, parrotfish, bacteria, viruses,  
sedimentation, abrasion, allelopathy, fish poop, environmental  
stressors - all can cause the same or "too close to call" signs of  
white disease in the field. A lot of field people still can't tell  
the difference between a partially bleached coral, fish bites and  

Before everyone who sees tissue loss on a coral begins calling it  
white plague, the diagnostics must confirm the gross signs of  
disease.  Its like having a headache or a fever or diarrhea...same  
symptoms in humans of many potential disease agents or maybe no  
disease agent at all.

There are characteristic diseases - like black band disease. White  
syndromes are not so clear cut and I wouldn't even say that the  
complete etiology of black band is written in stone although it is  
understood much better. There is even a different disease in the Indo- 
Pacific that can look a lot like black band disease but isn't and is  
caused by a totally different agent, Halofolliculina corallasia.

I think its important to keep this in mind when making field  
observations and assigning disease names to lesions.

Eric Borneman
Dept. of Biology and Biochemistry
University of Houston
Science and Research Bldg. II
4800 Calhoun Rd.
Houston, TX 77204-5001

eborneman at uh.edu

On Jul 3, 2006, at 11:19 AM, Melissa Keyes wrote:

> Hello, Listers,
>   I would greatly appreciate a description of the visual  
> differences between the two White Plagues.
>   Also, do they differ in rate of growth, as well as rate of  
> colonization of algae on the freshly dead coral?
>   Cheers,
>   Melissa Keyes
>   St Croix, USVI, Caribbean Sea
> ---------------------------------
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