From The University of Miami-Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science(US): “Study finds sediments a likely culprit in spread of deadly disease on Florida coral reefs” 


From The University of Miami-Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science(US)


The University of Miami (FL) (US)

Diana Udel

Orbicella faveolata and Montastraea cavernosa coral fragments infected with stony coral tissue loss disease after exposure to disease-inoculated sediments. Photo credit: Michael Studivan/University of Miami Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies.

New findings also point to coastal construction as potential way of further spreading coral disease.

A new study found that seafloor sediments have the potential to transmit a deadly pathogen to local corals and hypothesizes that sediments have played a role in the persistence of a devastating coral disease outbreak throughout Florida and the Caribbean.

These new findings from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science-led research team could help mitigate the spread of the deadly disease— stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD)—that causes white lesions and rapid tissue loss to reef-building corals.

Since first appearing in waters off Miami in 2014, stony coral tissue loss disease has now spread throughout all of Florida’s coral reefs as well as the wider Caribbean, affecting over 20 coral species and killing millions of coral colonies. To date, the microbe or suite of microbes causing the disease have not been identified, making it very difficult to manage and treat.

“Our findings indicate that disease-associated microbes may reside in sediments, which can help explain how this disease outbreak has been able to spread and persist largely unabated for the last seven years,” said the study’s lead author Michael Studivan, an assistant scientist with UM’s Cooperative Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Studies (CIMAS) based at The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (US)’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab (AOML).

To study the spread of the disease, the scientists built a disease transmission apparatus in the CIMAS Experimental Reef Lab to test and identify possible disease vectors and sources. They inoculated reef sediments with SCTLD from diseased corals and exposed these sediments to healthy corals. For four weeks, they monitored the corals daily for signs of the disease’s characteristic white lesions to determine how many individuals were infected, and how quickly the disease progressed.

The researchers found that disease-inoculated sediments were able to transmit SCTLD pathogens, resulting in visible signs of the disease in as little as 24 hours.

In addition, the scientists compared DNA extracted from sediments exposed to SCTLD to those that were not exposed to disease to identify several known pathogens that are found on reef environments near diseased corals, including the group of bacteria Vibrio spp., suggesting that some SCTLD-associated microbes can be found in sediments.

“We hope this new information will provide managers with critical information needed to respond to the SCTLD outbreak, especially in the context of mitigating further disease spread with coastal construction activities like dredging and beach renourishment,” said study coauthor Ian Enochs, a research ecologist and head of AOML’s Coral Program.

The study was published in the Jan. 13 issue of the journal Frontiers in Marine Science. The project was funded by NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program (grant #31252) and NOAA OAR ‘Omics Program.

See the full article here.


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The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science is an academic and research institution for the study of oceanography and the atmospheric sciences within the University of Miami. It is located on a 16 acre (65,000 m^²) campus on Virginia Key in Miami, Florida. It is the only subtropical applied and basic marine and atmospheric research institute in the continental United States.

Up until 2008, RSMAS was solely a graduate school within the University of Miami, while it jointly administrated an undergraduate program with UM’s College of Arts and Sciences. In 2008, the Rosenstiel School has taken over administrative responsibilities for the undergraduate program, granting Bachelor of Science in Marine and Atmospheric Science (BSMAS) and Bachelor of Arts in Marine Affairs (BAMA) baccalaureate degree. Master’s, including a Master of Professional Science degree, and doctorates are also awarded to RSMAS students by the UM Graduate School.

The Rosenstiel School’s research includes the study of marine life, particularly Aplysia and coral; climate change; air-sea interactions; coastal ecology; and admiralty law. The school operates a marine research laboratory ship, and has a research site at an inland sinkhole. Research also includes the use of data from weather satellites and the school operates its own satellite downlink facility. The school is home to the world’s largest hurricane simulation tank.

The University of Miami [FL] (US) is a private research university in Coral Gables, Florida. As of 2020, the university enrolled approximately 18,000 students in 12 separate colleges and schools, including the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine in Miami’s Health District, a law school on the main campus, and the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science focused on the study of oceanography and atmospheric sciences on Virginia Key, with research facilities at the Richmond Facility in southern Miami-Dade County.

The university offers 132 undergraduate, 148 master’s, and 67 doctoral degree programs, of which 63 are research/scholarship and 4 are professional areas of study. Over the years, the university’s students have represented all 50 states and close to 150 foreign countries. With more than 16,000 full- and part-time faculty and staff, The University of Miami is a top 10 employer in Miami-Dade County. The University of Miami’s main campus in Coral Gables has 239 acres and over 5.7 million square feet of buildings.

The University of Miami is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity”. The University of Miami research expenditure in FY 2019 was $358.9 million. The University of Miami offers a large library system with over 3.9 million volumes and exceptional holdings in Cuban heritage and music.

The University of Miami also offers a wide range of student activities, including fraternities and sororities, and hundreds of student organizations. The Miami Hurricane, the student newspaper, and WVUM, the student-run radio station, have won multiple collegiate awards. The University of Miami’s intercollegiate athletic teams, collectively known as the Miami Hurricanes, compete in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The University of Miami’s football team has won five national championships since 1983 and its baseball team has won four national championships since 1982.


The University of Miami is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity”. In fiscal year 2016, The University of Miami received $195 million in federal research funding, including $131.3 million from the Department of Health and Human Services (US) and $14.1 million from the National Science Foundation (US). Of the $8.2 billion appropriated by Congress in 2009 as a part of the stimulus bill for research priorities of The National Institutes of Health (US), the Miller School received $40.5 million. In addition to research conducted in the individual academic schools and departments, Miami has the following university-wide research centers:

The Center for Computational Science
The Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS)
Leonard and Jayne Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy
The Miami European Union Center: This group is a consortium with Florida International University (FIU) established in fall 2001 with a grant from the European Commission through its delegation in Washington, D.C., intended to research economic, social, and political issues of interest to the European Union.
The Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies
John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics – studies possible causes of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and macular degeneration.
Center on Research and Education for Aging and Technology Enhancement (CREATE)
Wallace H. Coulter Center for Translational Research

The Miller School of Medicine receives more than $200 million per year in external grants and contracts to fund 1,500 ongoing projects. The medical campus includes more than 500,000 sq ft (46,000 m^2) of research space and the The University of Miami Life Science Park, which has an additional 2,000,000 sq ft (190,000 m^2) of space adjacent to the medical campus.The University of Miami’s Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute seeks to understand the biology of stem cells and translate basic research into new regenerative therapies.

As of 2008, The Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science receives $50 million in annual external research funding. Their laboratories include a salt-water wave tank, a five-tank Conditioning and Spawning System, multi-tank Aplysia Culture Laboratory, Controlled Corals Climate Tanks, and DNA analysis equipment. The campus also houses an invertebrate museum with 400,000 specimens and operates the Bimini Biological Field Station, an array of oceanographic high-frequency radar along the US east coast, and the Bermuda aerosol observatory. The University of Miami also owns the Little Salt Spring, a site on the National Register of Historic Places, in North Port, Florida, where RSMAS performs archaeological and paleontological research.

The University of Miami built a brain imaging annex to the James M. Cox Jr. Science Center within the College of Arts and Sciences. The building includes a human functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) laboratory, where scientists, clinicians, and engineers can study fundamental aspects of brain function. Construction of the lab was funded in part by a $14.8 million in stimulus money grant from the National Institutes of Health (US).

In 2016 the university received $161 million in science and engineering funding from the U.S. federal government, the largest Hispanic-serving recipient and 56th overall. $117 million of the funding was through the Department of Health and Human Services and was used largely for the medical campus.

The University of Miami maintains one of the largest centralized academic cyber infrastructures in the country with numerous assets. The Center for Computational Science High Performance Computing group has been in continuous operation since 2007. Over that time the core has grown from a zero HPC cyberinfrastructure to a regional high-performance computing environment that currently supports more than 1,200 users, 220 TFlops of computational power, and more than 3 Petabytes of disk storage.