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By Nazario Rodriguez Jr.

KOROR (Palau Horizon, Feb. 1) — Experts say corals get colds too and other infectious diseases.

Recent findings of a team of international scientists on coral diseases, which has just completed its research in Palau, showed a new outbreak of a white syndrome disease on corals in Nikko Bay.

The Coral Disease Working Group of the Global Environmental Fund Coral Reef Targeted Research Program made a detailed study on designated reefs here from Jan. 18-28, 2005 in order to address major issues pertaining to such diseases.

The working group surveyed coral disease inside and outside a series of Marine Protected Areas around Palau.

Further studies will be done to identify the potential causative microorganisms and record if the outbreak spreads.

One major concern of the group to be addressed includes the reduction of impacts of coral disease inside marine protected areas.

And such question as "will bouts of coral bleaching yield outbreaks of new disease?"

The team is composed of Dr. Drew Harvell of Cornell University USA, Dr. Bette Willis of James Cook University Australia, Dr. Laurie Raymundo of University of Guam and students Cathie Page, Katherine Rosell, Krystal Rypien, David Baker, Jason Andras and Stephen Neale.

According to MPA Program Manager of the Marine Conservation and Protected Areas Alma Ridep-Morris, the GEF project has a lot of questions to answer such as "Does coral disease prevalence correlate globally with warming trends, or regionally with changes in climate and environmental quality?

"Is disease changing the structure and composition of coral assemblages in all reef regions worldwide? Is disease changing coral reef diversity, perhaps by hampering reproduction of certain coral species?

"How do pathogens reach the corals? In airborne dust containing spores? Or in the marine worms, snails and fish that frequent coral reefs?

"What is reducing corals’ natural resistance to disease? How do environmental stresses, such as increases in water temperature and nutrients, affect coral immunity?

"And, ultimately, can new knowledge about coral disease inform science-based policy making?"

Ridep-Morris said that Harvell, one of the leaders of the global assessment of coral disease, has been thankful of the intensive research in the past decade, "we know quite a lot about the role of coral community structure and diversity in maintaining productive fish and invertebrate populations. We’re just beginning to learn how disease affects coral community structure and diversity. But the biggest question concerns the human community. If we discover that improvements in waste-water treatment, solid waste disposal and land-use practices can slow—or even reverse—the destruction of coral reefs and protect the fisheries that depend on the reefs, what will people do with that information?"

The team is working collaboratively with Palau’s Marine Protected Areas project scientists: Yimnang Golbuu (Palau International Coral Reef Center) and Alma Ridep-Morris (Bureau of Marine Resources, Ministry of Resources and Development).

For further information on the Coral Disease Working Group, please contact Dr. Drew Harvell, Cornell University, NY, USA; or information on MPAs in Palau, please contact Alma Ridep-Morris at the Bureau of Marine Resources or Yimnang Golbuu at the Palau International Coral Reef Center.

February 1, 2005

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