Considering Commercial Vessels as Potential Vectors of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease

Front Mar Sci. 2021 Sep 22:8:1-8. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2021.709764.


Stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) is a troubling new disease that is spreading rapidly across the greater Caribbean region, but the etiological agent(s) and the mechanisms(s) of spread are both unknown. First detected off the coast of Miami, Florida, major ocean currents alone do not explain the pattern of spread, with outbreaks occurring across geographically disjunct and distant locations. This has raised concerns by researchers and resource managers that commercial vessels may contribute as vectors to spread of the disease. Despite existing regulatory and management strategies intended to limit coastal marine invasion risks, the efficacy of these measures is still unresolved for ship-borne microorganisms, and disease transport via ballast water and hull biofouling are under examination given the high ship traffic in the region. Here, to help inform the discussion of ships as possible vectors of SCTLD, we provide an overview of the current state of knowledge about ships and their potential to transfer organisms in the greater Caribbean, focusing in particular on ballast water, and outline a set of recommendations for future research.

Keywords: Caribbean; ballast water; biofouling; stony coral tissue loss disease; vector of stony coral tissue loss disease; vessel discharge regulations.