Researchers are reporting that the dreaded Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) has reached one of the country’s most treasured and vibrant dive sites, leaving environmentalists scrambling to save it.
Sandy Cay Reef, a renowned scuba spot within the Pelican Cays Land and Sea Park in Abaco, is the latest victim of the coral pandemic. In March, marine scientists from the Perry Institute for Marine Science (PIMS) discovered the deadly disease had infiltrated Abaco’s Sandy Cay Reef, wreaking havoc on its famously diverse array of corals, including the colossal pillar and mountainous star colonies that have flourished there for centuries.
Sandy Cay Reef is renowned for having the highest living coral cover of any reef surveyed in The Bahamas, as revealed by the Perry Institute’s 2020 Coral Reef Report Card.
For over a decade, PIMS has led reef health surveys throughout the country in partnership with The Bahamas National Trust (BNT), Friends of the Environment, the Government of The Bahamas, and many others.
Valeria Pizarro, a senior scientist at the Perry Institute who is leading the battle against SCTLD in The Bahamas, expressed the gravity of the situation as a “significant setback” to conservation efforts in The Bahamas.
“This is a rare and breathtaking reef, one that is beloved by locals and tourists alike,” she said. “Its loss would be devastating to the entire community.”
The Perry Institute’s urgent work is being carried out in accordance with their contract with the Government of The Bahamas to slow the disease’s spread.
Just weeks after the alarming discovery, Pizarro’s team raced back to Sandy Cay to administer life-saving antibiotics to hundreds of disease-stricken corals, prioritizing the largest colonies and most vulnerable species, such as pillar and flower corals. They partnered with SeaKeepers International and Barton & Gray Mariners Club to operate from a live aboard, affording them the time to conduct vital damage-assessment surveys as well. The fight continues as PIMS returns to Nassau to gather more resources for treating corals in the remote location.