Coral Reef Disease (SCTLD) – linked to Ballast Water?

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease also known as SCTLD is a coral disease that, according to the latest research, could be linked to ballast water from ships. Ballast water is water used to stabilize and help maneuverability for a ship or vessel to pass under bridges. Seawater is stored by large ships and sometimes pumped into ballast tanks then discharged. Ballast water can contain biological material ranging from small fish to phytoplankton. Since SCTLD is waterborne, ballast water could be a possible vector for the movement of this coral disease. 

SCTLD is a deadly infection that has been detected in over eighteen other countries and is highly transmissible and waterborne, it can spread within a reef and between reef areas rapidly. SCTLD was recently reported in the Caribbean. Over thirty species of coral are susceptible to SCTLD. 

In the Caribbean, reefs consist of 1500 species of fish and 60 species of corals. The local economy depends on coral reefs for tourism, fisheries, and protecting vulnerable coastlines. Recently, a risk analysis was conducted for Barbados and the OECS countries to determine possible aquatic invasive species introductions into the Caribbean region. One of the pathways highlighted as a gateway for introduction was via ballast water. 

SCTLD puts the Caribbean economy at high risk. Tourism and Fishing are important sectors in the region. Tourism generates over 7.9 billion in revenue for the economy due to reef association. 

To prevent the spread of SCTLD and other deadly pathogens by ships, the Ballast Water Management Convention was implemented by the International Maritime Organization. All countries in the region sans Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are signatories. This convention ensures that ships must discharge their ballast water before entering port, to avoid bringing harmful invasive species or pathogens. 

Check out more sources below!


The Guardian – Deadly coral disease sweeping the Caribbean linked to water from ships

Frontiersin – Spatial and Temporal Patterns of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Outbreaks in The Bahamas

UNEP – Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease

Policy Brief – Prevention and Management of Marine Invasive Alien Species in the Caribbean

Marine Risk Assessment Report – Preventing the Costs of Invasive Alien Species (IAS) In Barbados and the OECS Countries – Marine Risk Assessment Report