Caribbean Coral Catch Disease From Sewage
Recent improvements in wasterwater treatment in the Keys may have come just in the nick of time.
Human beings occasionally get diseases from animals, such as swine flu, rabies and anthrax. A new study finds that humans can also spread disease to wildlife, with grim results. A bacterium from our guts is now rampaging through coral reefs in the Caribbean.
Those reefs were already in slow decline, but they took a huge hit starting in 1996, when a disease called white pox appeared in the Florida Keys.
"Since that time, elkhorn coral -- the species it affects -- has declined 88 percent in the Florida Keys," says Kathryn Sutherland, a reef ecologist at Rollins College in Florida. "And we've seen similar declines elsewhere in the Caribbean."
The coral is named for its resemblance to elk antlers, and is among the most important reef-building species in the Caribbean. Sutherland and her colleagues soon found a culprit for the die-off -- a bacterium called Serratia marcescens. It also happens to cause disease in human beings, notably hospital infections. But the scientists couldn't prove cause and effect. ...