Nearly 2,000 coral colonies from Florida waters are being treated in labs across the US to stop a mysterious disease that could destroy the only reef in the nation’s continental waters 

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  • A mysterious disease may destroy the only coral reef in America’s continental waters, located in southern Florida
  • The disease has destroyed more than 96,000 acres of coral reefs
  • Scientists are now treating more than 2,000 coral colonies in laboratories
  • They are feeding them and giving them antibiotics with the hope of returning to their natural home

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Biologists across the US are working tirelessly to stop a mysterious disease from hitting the coast of southern Florida—the only reef habitat in American continental waters.

About 2,000 colonies of coral were removed from Dry Tortugas National Park west of the Florida Keys and are now being treated at 20 institutions in 14 states.

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The corals are in massive saltwater tanks, over which lamps that mimic sunlight are shining to recreate their natural Florida habitat.

Here the corals are being fed and treated with antibiotics with the hope of returning to their natural home.

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The coral suffers from SCTLD (Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease), which first appeared off the southeast coast in 2014, but has since spread along the Florida Keys and into the Caribbean Sea.

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About 2,000 colonies of coral were removed from Dry Tortugas National Park west of the Florida Keys and are now being treated at 20 institutions in 14 states.

Michelle Ashton, communications director for Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Foundation, told AFP: ‘It’s heartbreaking, and I think the most shocking thing about it is that most people don’t know it’s happening.’

More than half of Florida’s coral reefs are infected by the disease – more than 96,000 acres – and about 45 species have been affected.

The rescue lab’s work is part of a project created in 2018 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and involves dozens of public and private organizations.

The group, facing more than 20 of the 45 species of hard corals in the region that are facing extinction, made an unprecedented plan in hopes of removing healthy corals from the area’s waters and caring for them in these artificially equipped aquariums. Prepared. They will be returned to their wild habitats in the future.

The coral suffers from SCTLD (Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease), which first appeared off the southeast coast in 2014, but has since spread along the Florida Keys and into the Caribbean Sea.  infected with white coral disease

The coral suffers from SCTLD (Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease), which first appeared off the southeast coast in 2014, but has since spread along the Florida Keys and into the Caribbean Sea. infected with white coral disease

Biologists at the Florida Coral Rescue Center (pictured) are treating 18 species of coral -- more than 700 creatures -- by feeding them shrimp inside a tank that mimics their natural habitat

Biologists at the Florida Coral Rescue Center (pictured) are treating 18 species of coral — more than 700 creatures — by feeding them shrimp inside a tank that mimics their natural habitat

Figure shows a map of where coral has been affected by the loss of stony coral tissue over the past year

Figure shows a map of where coral has been affected by the loss of stony coral tissue over the past year

‘You see the future of the Florida Reef Tract in this room,’ Aston said of the corals at the Orlando Aquarium. ‘And their grandchildren will be the ones who go back to the water.’

Biologists at the Florida Coral Rescue Center are treating 18 species of coral — more than 700 creatures — by feeding them shrimp inside a tank that mimics their natural habitat.

Justin Zimmerman, director of the Orlando-based lab, which will open in 2020 and is managed by aquatic theme park company SeaWorld, said in a statement: ‘We are keeping the corals in our care safe and healthy.

‘If they were still in the wild, up to 90 percent of them would have died.’

Here the corals are being fed and treated with antibiotics with the hope of returning to their natural home

Here the corals are being fed and treated with antibiotics with the hope of returning to their natural home

A staff member works to restore Florida's coral reefs suffering from Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, at the Florida Coral Rescue Center in Orlando

A staff member works to restore Florida’s coral reefs suffering from Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, at the Florida Coral Rescue Center in Orlando

Scientists are studying the genetics of rescued animals in an effort to cultivate new specimens that may be more resistant to disease, as well as other threats such as warming water temperatures and pollution.

The success or failure of these efforts can have major consequences for the sector.

Stony corals, composed of limestone skeletons, form coral reefs, which in turn provide a home for a quarter of marine life.

In addition, the formations are natural barriers between the open ocean and land, reducing the strength of waves hitting the coast, especially during hurricanes and other storms.

And a hit to coral health could mean a hit to Florida tourism revenue, as one study estimated that visitors to the state for fishing and diving along the reef generate $8.5 billion. .

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