Scientists are really puzzled at a recent die-off of once-beautiful corals and sponges that inhabit a reef about 100 miles/161km off the shores of Texas and Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico.
The East Flower Garden Bank, a reef that usually is chock-full of fish, corals and other marine life and up until now was thought of as “one of the healthiest anywhere in the region” now has large swaths of coral covered with a white, goopy film. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose scientists by pure happenstance were in the area after being told about the die-off by a dive boat charter captain:
“The scientists are now reporting that a large-scale mortality event of unknown cause is underway on this bank.”
The weird thing is that the area where the scientists were doing their long-term monitoring of the coral — about 12 miles/19km away — didn’t show any evidence of a die-off, according to NOAA.
Until scientists figure out the source of the die-off, the agency recommends that the public avoid the East Flower Garden Bank:
“This is primarily to prevent the transmission of whatever is causing the mass mortality to unaffected locations, but also could protect divers from ingesting what could be harmful pathogens or toxins.”
Sanctuary Superintendent G.P. Schmahl says:
“At present, we are not aware of any specific risks to humans, but we are recommending this action as a precaution until more is known about the cause.”
If you think the above photo is bad, the NOAA blog post that describes the die-off has more pictures, as well as a GIF of the area’s salinity over the past month. Check it out at sanctuaries.noaa.gov.