[Coral-List] Major sponge disease outbreak in the Caribbean

Douglas Fenner dfenner at blueskynet.as
Tue Aug 2 02:39:54 EDT 2005


   E.R. and Betty Gammill (authors of Identification of Coral Reef Sponges) have been diving and photographing the reefs of Cozumel, Mexico, in the Caribbean for the last 30 years. They just returned from diving and photographing all of the reefs there the last week of June and first week of July this year.  In 2004 they first observed sponge diseases there and in their most recent trip they recorded much increased levels of this sponge disease or diseases. The sponge fauna is highly diverse with 75 to 100 species observable depending on the individual reef. These sponges range in size from thumbnail to 7 foot diameter giant barrel sponges. Seven sponge species are primarily affected by the disease so far.  Unfortunately they include the 3 species of large barrel sponges. 100% of Xestospongia muta sponges now are diseased, with many individuals dead.  This is a big increase from the 50% we found diseased in 2004. All reefs in Cozumel are affected, but to different degrees.  

    Primarily affected species are: X. muta, Geodia neptuni, Verongula gigantea, Geodia gibberosa, Ircinia strobilina, Ircinia variabilis and Callyspongia plicifera. We hope to post more information and photos on the web, hopefully on CoralBase, soon.

    Negelkerken (2000) described the symptoms, death, and disintegration of a very large X. muta in 1997 in Curacao in a period of just 4 months.  The symptoms were the same as in Cozumel and elsewhere.  We are told that there was a mass die-off of X. muta in the Caymans two years ago, with similar symptoms.  Paz reported a disease outbreak in Belize in 1996 that had similar symptoms.  Sponge diseases have also been reported from Tobago and Panama affecting some of the same sponges.  Eric Borneman reports he has seen it in Belize, Aruba, the Texas Flower Gardens, the Florida Keys, and he and Andy Bruckner have seen sponge disease in remote areas of Puerto Rico and Dominica.  A colleague in Cuba has photographed the same symptoms in X. muta there.  Ernesto Weil has been documenting sponge disease in the southern Caribbean as well.

     Thus, sponge disease is widespread on reefs in the Western Atlantic, and has the potential to decimate populations of some species.  People need to document this, and include sponge disease in their monitoring.  It would be good as well to freeze samples for future disease work.  If you have seen sponge disease in the Western Atlantic, could you please let us know?


E. R. Gammill,  egammill at tampabay.rr.com


Douglas Fenner, dfenner at blueskynet.as


Negelkerken I, Aerts L, Pors L  (2000)  Barrel sponge bows out.  Reef Encounter 28: 14-15.   http://www.fit.edu/isrs/reefencounter/28reef.pdf


Paz, M.  1996.  New killer disease attacks giant barrel sponge.  www.sanpedrosun.net/old/sponge.html

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