Mystery Sponge-Killing Disease Now Seen From Palm Beach to Lower Keys

Categories: Environment
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From Sombrero Reef down in the Keys to the waters of West Palm Beach, red barrel sponges are disintegrating at worrisome rates. The culprit is unknown, and state scientists are busy trying to figure out just how widespread the disease outbreak is.

At the end of April, Ed Tichenor of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue first observed sponges disintegrating. By the first week of May, he confirmed that the sponges, an animal, were dying from Breakers Reef in Palm Beach south to at least Delray Beach. 

Now, officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission confirm with New Times that similar observations have been made in waters off Broward, Key Biscayne, and the Florida Keys. 


"We are trying to get a handle on the extent of how widespread the disease outbreak is right now," says Rob Ruzicka, program manager at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. "As far as we can tell, this is the largest event we've seen so far, at least in Florida."

It's unclear what's actually killing the sponges. Scientists have dubbed the syndrome Sponge Orange Band, which only describes the symptoms, but they haven't been able to confirm the actual pathogen responsible.  

"It's totally possible that whatever is causing the disease here could spread to the rest of the Caribbean in a matter of months or a year," Ruzicka says. "We might just be witnessing the very early stages of something larger... We need to find out if it's a widespread pandemic and, if so, how much of the sponge population it is affecting."

Another aspect researchers are trying to determine is whether the phenomenon has moved south toward the Keys or north along the reef tract.   

"Typically, you look up-current," says Tichenor of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue. "I'm suggesting that we need to look at what's coming out of the Gulf of Mexico."

Tichenor says the first step should be to conduct what's called a PAH analysis, a test to determine if polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are in the water. Strong pollutants, PAHs are present in crude-oil deposits, among other things. 

"If this is a containment, I think sponges are likely the first organism to be impacted because they're filtering the water. That's what they do," Tichenor says. "It seems that whatever they're filtering out of the water is killing them. The question now is what's in the water."

Ruzicka and state officials will be heading to the Dry Tortugas to inspect the waters in the coming weeks, and they'll be checking back on the upper and lower Keys through June and July. Tichenor will continue to monitor the local waters.

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11 comments
buy 4 less
buy 4 less

Prepare for the bath by gathering all the bathing supplies you’ll need in the location you’ve chosen to bathe your baby.

David Mowers
David Mowers

BP needs to be seized and run by the American government and all profits used to clean up their mess and until it is cleaned properly they remain a taxpayer-owned entity and afterwards are sold to the HIGHEST bidder and the funds from the sale go to the Social Security Trust Fund.

9t9s
9t9s

Still gushing.

Thebes
Thebes

Don't worry.The EPA and their BP bosses insist that Corexit mixed with oil is perfectly safe.Of course you can trust them, they're money junkies.

Michael F Rivero
Michael F Rivero

I'm going to take three guesses here.

1. Oil and Corexit from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

2. Oil and Corexit from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

3. Oil and Corexit from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  

eco-wrench
eco-wrench

big mystery... corexit disintegrates body tissue; of course the sea life is disintegrating. 

mcculloughco
mcculloughco

try corexit 9500. a chemical banned for use in the uk, but dumped by the millions of gallons in the gom. during the macondo well blowout fiasco/which is still happening.

Spellbinder00
Spellbinder00

Red barrel sponges dying...It's called Corexit 9500, say 2 million barrels dumped to cover oil spill for BP and is still being dumped according to reports from witnesses.

1014summer
1014summer

Sponge killing disease rapidly disintegrating red barrel sponges.

Dive
Dive

BP OIL! 

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