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Diseases on coral reefs behave in a similar way to disease outbreaks in other populations they can be highly contagious and easily spread from individual to individual. Though researchers first reported coral diseases in the early 1970s (World Conservation Monitoring Centre), their occurrences have increased over the past three decades. Many researchers believe that the growing number of reported cases of disease of coral, fish and other reef species may be a general sign of the declining health of the marine environment, possibly due to human influences. These diseases may be a response to many stresses facing the marine environment including nutrient pollution, pathogen introductions, and climate change.

Caribbean coral reefs in particular are the most severely affected by coral diseases with the greatest number of diseases and the largest number of outbreaks. More than 40 coral species have been observed to be susceptible to disease (Weil et al. 2002; Richardson and Aronson 2002). Other areas of the world including the Great Barrier Reef, the Philippines, and the Hawaii have also reported outbreaks. Of the twenty-nine known coral diseases to date, the pathogen responsible for each disease is known for only five of them. More research is therefore needed to determine the pathogens that cause each disease, the source of that pathogen, and which human stressors, if any, increase the likelihood that corals will become susceptible to disease.
Seriatopora with black band disease. Location: Philippines Photo by: D. Knop (from ReefBase: http://www.reefbase.org)
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