‘It just dies’ – yellow-band disease ravages coral reefs

Infected sea: A marine biologist taking a photo of an outbreak of yellow-band disease on coral off Samae San island in Chonburi. — AFP

UNDERNEATH the calm turquoise waters off eastern Thailand, a rapidly spreading disease is killing vast stretches of corals, and scientists fear it may be getting worse because of climate change.

Yellow-band disease – named for the colour it turns corals before destroying them – was first spotted decades ago and has caused widespread damage to Caribbean reefs.

There is no known cure.

But it was detected for the first time off Thailand’s eastern coast just last year, near the popular tourist city of Pattaya, and has already spread over roughly 240ha.

“I haven’t seen anything like this before,” said marine scientist Lalita Putchim, of Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources.

“We saw it everywhere, and we expect to see more of it.”

Scientists believe overfishing, pollution and rising water temperatures because of climate change may be making the reefs more vulnerable to yellow-band disease.

The disease’s impact cannot be reversed.

“When the coral is infected with this disease, it just dies,” Lalita said.

The loss of corals could have a devastating impact on the ecosystem – the reef is “like a forest”, sustaining life, and its death could impact humans too, she added.

Thai scientists are hoping their investigation will help find a way to stop or cure yellow-band disease.

Thai marine authorities are using social media to track reports of infected reefs, and have also asked the public to report any sightings of affected corals. — AFP

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