top of page
  • Writer's pictureDebbie Hatch

What is Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease and What Are we Doing About t?

Updated: Feb 25

Coral Infected with Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease

Did you know that coral is alive?  It’s true!  Almost all corals are colonial organisms which means they are composed of hundreds (to hundreds of thousands) of individual animals, called polyps. To capture their food, polyps use stinging cells in their tentacles and outer tissue, called nematocysts. If you’ve ever been “stung” by a jellyfish (a relative of corals!!!), you’ve encountered nematocysts.


These amazing colonies are one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth:  a foundation species supporting a million or more other species.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, despite covering less than 1% of the ocean floor, coral reefs provide shelter and food for about 25% of all marine life!  The nooks and crannies formed by corals give fish places to hide from predators, find food sources, reproduce and allow offspring to grow. 


Protecting the Reef in Dominica

Small fish attract medium fish, which attract large fish.  Over half a billion people depend on reefs for food, income, and protection. Fishing, diving, and snorkeling on and near reefs add hundreds of millions of dollars to local communities and offer opportunities for recreation. The net economic value of the world’s coral reefs is estimated to be nearly tens of billions of US dollars per year.  Coral reefs also protect coastlines from storms and erosion.


And they’re dying. 


I recently spoke with Simon Walsh of Nature Island Dive about an aggressive disease attacking coral throughout the Caribbean:  Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD).  This disease destroys the soft tissue of at least 23 species of reef-building corals, killing them within weeks or months of becoming infected. Due to its rapid spread, high mortality rate, and lack of subsidence, it has been regarded as the deadliest coral disease ever recorded, with wide-ranging implications for the biodiversity of Caribbean coral reefs. SCTLD arrived in Dominica in 2021 and within 9 months had killed the maze coral.  This coral had been everywhere – the most common coral in the area.  SCTLD took all of it. 

Treating coral infected by Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, in Dominica

The only successful intervention currently known for this disease is to administer amoxicillin mixed with a marine-safe epoxy to the coral via a syringe. Treated corals are then monitored and re-treated as needed.  As SCTLD quickly spread throughout the Caribbean, it became critical to plan to save as much as possible, which meant also building coral trees.  Small pieces of coral are being attached to tile and tiles placed onto branches of the tree where it can grow. There are 7 branches per tree and 12 tiles per branch.  Currently there are 200 coral babies but the process takes time.  Maze, bolder, groove and symmetrical brain corals are slower to grow and what have been predominately impacted by SCTLD.  The long term goal of this effort is to have living examples of coral that can later be re-planted on the reefs.  Banking allows for genetic diversity.  I love what Simon said in his presentation, “we weren’t able to save everything but we’ve saved everything we could.”

I love that sentence!   How often do we want to make a difference but the work to be done seems too immense, too overwhelming, like we couldn’t possibly have any affect?  The entire goal of the Diver Mojo Foundation is to realize we cannot save everything but we will save everything we can! 


As you can imagine, all of this takes money and manpower; both of which are in short supply on Dominica. 

The DiverMojo Foundation, a 401c organization continues to educate divers and also raise money for this effort.  Our initial donations allowed for the purchase of amoxicillin and epoxy:  an expense that was costing Nature Island Dive $2,500 per month out of pocket.  The Foundation has also sponsored two coral trees, allowing Nature Island to do more fragmentation for out planting. 

Diver Mojo Foundation President and Secretary affix DMF plaque to donated coral tree.

Financially, we need your help. 


If you can spare even a couple tax deductible dollars to help, that would be amazing. or @divermojofoundation on Venmo.

Diver Mojo Foundation plaque on donated coral tree


I also asked Simon for his Top Three things that all divers can do to help:


(1)  Without question, number one is to practice good buoyancy control.  No fins.  No fingers.  Nothing should touch the coral.   


(2)  Educate ourselves.  Learn more about the ocean we love so much.  It’s specifically important to know the difference between sponges, coral, and rocks. 


(3)  Choose a dive shop with environmental habits in place and notify them of exactly why you selected them.  By the same token, be sure to tell other dive companies why you didn’t select.  Let them know we want environmentally responsible dive operators and we will not settle for anything less. 



bottom of page