[Coral-List] Tunicate-killing coral spreading

James Cervino PhD. jcervino at whoi.edu
Sat Jan 19 08:57:35 EST 2008

Hi Alina and other respected coral scientists,

At the moment I have one of my Pace graduate students in Bonaire working on YBD
indicies. I have to say, her photos show serious coral habitat decline at some
of my study locations. The images are depressing. I thought the reef was in
serious conditions during 1996-2000. However, from what I am seeing, during her
last 2 trips(past 6 months), is a re-emerging of all of the known coral
diseases, tunicate smothering as well as this continued PFWSB that we don't see
at other locations in the Caribbean or FL. I still don't get it. I remain
concerned that this aggressive biting continues to invite secondary bacterial
infections as well as laying down a surface for either macro-algae or tunicate
smothering to take advantage. Andy & Robin Bruckner have looked closely at the
Pfish behavior and may have notes on this invasive tunicate growth. They may be
able to enlighten you more on this.

As Bruckner et al. have accurately shown, many of the bitten/torn apart tissue
lesions of C. natans from PFWSB eventually show an over lap of tissue healing.
C. natans do show a more promising recovery due to their fast tissue growth
(Cervino et al., un-published data) if not invaded by tunicate or macro-algae
residents. However, the Montastraea morphotypes show a different secondary
prognosis; which include various infections. They range from Vibrio induced YB,
BBD, dark-spots, and a microbial mat consisting of this infamous fungal hyphae
that we have not identified as of yet. The question now seems to be in the
direction of : has anyone seen tunicate invasion on the surface of completely
healthy corals? And, are these tunicates becoming invasive following a "primary
stressor" like PFWSB or thermal bleaching?

Dr. James M. Cervino
Pace University & Visiting Scientist
Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst.
Department of Marine Chemistry
Woods Hole MA.
Cell: 917-620*5287

Quoting "Szmant, Alina" <szmanta at uncw.edu>:

* With all due respect to the beautiful Bonaire Marine Park, fishing is not
* strictly regulated (first thing I ran into when I visited was a young man on
* the beach in front of the house we were renting (next to the Habitat dive
* resort) with a whole bunch of 6 to 8 inch small groupers, cleaning them on
* the shore.  We never saw many big fishes day or night during our dives.  I am
* used to the Florida Keys where herbivores are not fished, and these animals
* are numerous (large schools) and large in size.  The parrotfish population on
* Bonaire reefs was low in my experience.  While I was there, Bob Steneck was
* talking earnestly to Bonaire officials making strong recommendations that
* fishing not be allowed in the park.  If all fishing has been stopped since my
* visit (last 3-4 years) then that would be great but it will take time for the
* fishes to come back.  Same can be said for Curacao where I have spent more
* time and visited more reefs.
* Alina Szmant
* *******************************************************************
* Dr. Alina M. Szmant
* Coral Reef Research Group
* UNCW-Center for Marine Science
* 5600 Marvin K. Moss Ln
* Wilmington NC 28409
* Tel: (910)962-2362 & Fax:  (910)962-2410
* Cell:  (910)200-3913
* email:  szmanta at uncw.edu
* Web Page:  http://people.uncw.edu/szmanta
* ******************************************************************
* ________________________________
* From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov on behalf of Emily McGrath
* Sent: Thu 1/17/2008 7:55 PM
* To: Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
* Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Tunicate-killing coral spreading (Emily McGrath)
* Dear Coral Listers,
*     Like Mark, I have been following the tunicate vein with great interest,
* particularly in regards to the subject of fish population/predation and the
* connection to increased populations of *T. solidum *throughout the
* Caribbean. As an intern for the CIEE Research Station in Bonaire, I had the
* opportunity to volunteer for the Bonaire National Marine Park studying the
* abundance and distribution of the colonial tunicate throughout the park. As
* Dr. Goreau mentioned, the entirety of the island is a marine park, has
* strict fishing regulations, and is heavily protected. As a result it boasts
* some of the highest fish diversity in the Caribbean (and with a healthy
* population of the aforementioned fish; i.e. parrotfish, surgeonfish, and
* wrass).
*    Throughout all of my diving on the island, I never witnessed the
* predation of the tunicate by any organism; I attributed this to literature
* found regarding the ability of *T. solidum* to store several toxic compounds
* throughout the test, gonads, larvae, etc. Even while observing spawning, I
* never witnessed consumption of their large, swimming larvae (my buddy said
* she even saw a mysid shrimp take one and immediately release it). If others
* have witnessed predation activity on the tunicates in the southern
* Caribbean, or aware of any such literature, I would greatly welcome
* references.
*       As a side note: one might exercise caution while removing the tunicate
* from mid-morning until mid-afternoon (the daily spawning period of Tri-D;
* times vary by location but have been defined by Bak et al. in Curacao and
* Bonaire). As it may be difficult to remove the entirety of the mat in one
* fell swoop, tears often result and the large larvae will often escape and
* begin to swim immediately -- a good way to help spread this
* already worrysome organism.
*     Emily McGrath
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