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Disease that is killing sea urchins in Caribbean, arrives in Puerto Rico


The Diadema antillarum is one of the most important herbivores on Caribbean coral reefs, removing algae and maintaining open space for coral growth.

By The Star Staff


A deadly disease that is killing thousands of sea urchins in the Caribbean region has arrived in Puerto Rico.


The disease that is causing a massive die-off of the Diadema antillarum, also known as the long-spined sea urchin, was found in in the Natural Reserve Canal Luis Pena in Culebra by officials from different organizations and the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources who spotted the dying sea urchins.


Fabiola Rivera, a marine biologist, said officials do not know what is causing the disease but she noted that the public must care because loss of sea urchins could have serious repercussions on the food chain in reefs.


The Diadema antillarum is one of the most important herbivores on Caribbean coral reefs, removing algae and maintaining open space for coral growth.


The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) Program, which champions coral reef conservation and empowers those who protect these diverse ecosystems, raised the alarm in mid-February 2022 about extensive Diadema die-offs close to Charlotte Amalie Harbor in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).


Within a month, AGRRA reported that additional mortality events had been independently observed elsewhere in St. Thomas plus nearby St. John, as well as Saba, St. Eustatius, Dominica, Jamaica, St. Vincent, and perhaps other islands.


The signs of sick and dying urchins include detaching from substrate through loss of control of their tube feet, followed by loss of spines, tissue loss and rapid death.


“While we do not know what is causing these dispersed die-offs, the speed at which large numbers of sick urchins are now dying on affected reefs resembles the mass mortality event of four decades ago. We worry that a real crisis is developing in the Caribbean, where stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) has already caused widespread coral losses affecting about 34 coral species in 20 countries/territories,” AGRRA said.


Rivera noted in a televised report that the sea urchin disease is another element contributing to the deterioration of coral reefs in Culebra, whose reefs are being impacted by the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, or SCTLD, a disease that causes the death of coral polyp tissue through suspected bacterial pathogens.


The STAR reported that Kayaking Puerto Rico and the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources are promoting a plan to rescue the sick coral reefs located in Tamarindo Beach in Culebra that are being impacted by SCTLD.

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