DEP Partners with FORCE BLUE to Combat Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Impacting Florida Reef Tract

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DEP Partners with FORCE BLUE to Combat Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease Impacting Florida Reef Tract

~Partners help study and treat disease impacting the iconic Florida Reef Tract ~


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein met with FORCE BLUE, a team of military veterans working to restore and rehabilitate the Florida Reef Tract, to discuss the organization's ongoing partnership with the department, restoration and recovery efforts, and the status of the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease currently impacting southeast Florida.

“For the last few years, our coral reefs have been significantly impacted by tissue loss disease,” DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said. “The Florida Reef Tract is our first line of defense for the impacts from sea level rise, which makes its protection and restoration critical. We are thankful for our partnership with FORCE BLUE and their commitment to working alongside us to restore and protect Florida’s coral reefs. Healthy corals are essential to a healthy coastal ecosystem, healthy community and healthy economy.”

In partnership with the department and under the leadership of scientists from Nova Southeastern University, FORCE BLUE began a 50-day dive mission in December to treat infected coral colonies from Carysfort Reef in Key Largo down to Looe Key. Treatment efforts include applying an adhesive antibiotic mix and creating physical “firebreaks” between the diseased and healthy tissue in order to stop the spread of disease. As of April, the team has treated more than 3,500 lesions on almost 800 pieces of coral. 

“This is ground zero in the fight to save coral reefs everywhere. That’s our approach. There is no more important place in the world for FORCE BLUE to be deployed than right here, right now," said FORCE BLUE Executive Director Jim Ritterhoff. “We hope the success of our disease intervention work with DEP and Nova Southeastern University here in the Keys will be the springboard to a much larger campaign — to rescue, preserve and restore the entire Florida Coral Reef Tract.”

“Florida’s reef ecosystem is extremely valuable, both ecologically and economically, yet it is currently under extreme stress," said Dean of Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography at Nova Southeastern University Richard E. Dodge. "Nova Southeastern University is proud to be working with DEP and FORCE BLUE for actions to help understand, remediate and restore effects from the serious coral disease epidemic affecting the Florida Reef Tract.”  

Seeking to address the health of our planet’s marine resources and the difficulty returning combat veterans often have adjusting to civilian life, FORCE BLUE redeploys on missions of preservation and restoration around the globe under the instruction of esteemed marine scientists and conservationists. The team has moved its operations to South Florida until 2021 to continue studying and responding to the disease outbreak.

Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease was first observed on the Florida Reef Tract in 2014. Since the outbreak began, DEP has been at the forefront of Florida's unified coral reef disease response efforts, and continues to be committed to the protection of these vital habitats. As part of this effort, DEP has collaborated with more than 80 partners organizations to help identify potential causes, intervention tools, as well as ecosystem restoration and prevention strategies. Learn more about DEP's Coral Reef Conservation Program and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.