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Friday, July 23, 2021 

A powerful disease, known as stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD), which affects some 30-plus species of coral, has been linked by researchers to ballast water or waste water discharged by ships.

SCTLD was discovered in Florida in 2024, and has since spread through the Caribbean region. It is noted for its fast spread and high rate of damage and mortality to coral.

A study, by the Perry Institute for Marine Science, published in the Frontiers in Marine Science journal, recognises that the exact cause of the disease has not yet been determined, but supports the theory that ballast water from ships could be linked, having found that SCTLD was most prevalent in reefs near to commercial ports like Grand Bahama and Nassau. Under the IMO's Ballast Water Management Convention, ships must discharge ballast water at least 200 naut mile from shore in water that is at least 200m in depth.

The research found that there was a significant correlation between instances of the disease on the majority of affected species, and proximity to ports. Additionally, it was noted that pleasure boating, recreational fishing and diving appeared to influence the prevalence of SCTLD, again suggesting human influence being involved in its spread. It is feared that commercial fishing in the region could be adversely affected in the near future.

Scientists in the Bahamas have found that SCTLD can be treated by applying antibiotics to the coral - but this too raises ecological questions, so the conclusion is that it is necessary to find, and eliminate, the cause rather than rely on treating the symptoms.

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