This is one of the corals that we are following through the progression of disease. Our collaborator in Puerto Rico is monitoring them in the field for us - each coral colony that we are following was tagged at the beginning of the study, and as the disease progresses, more samples are taken.
We're using molecular approaches to follow changes in the microbial communities - bacteria and symbiotic algae (zooxanthellea) that are associated with the corals as disease progresses. We're hoping to couple changes in microbial community structure with changes in the functional gene potential in that community: in other words, what is going wrong and why from an ecological perspective.
The extent of the loss is staggering. Coral reef ecosystems represent the most biologically diverse ecosystem in the marine environment. Ultimate bottomline: much more diversity will be loss (besides the corals themselves) - imagine all of the species dependent on corals and coral reefs (from a structural perspective) for their survival.
There are days when it's hard to not let it get you down. Today was one of those days.
Update (23 May): I didn't realize when I wrote this post yesterday that it was International Biological Diversity Day. I had forgotten (but then I don't think it's extensively promoted in this country either). The day was established by the UN General Assembly to celebrate the day the Convention on Biological Diversity went into effect. The focus on this year's convention was - not surprisingly - climate change. The list of parties involved is an interesting one: the relative lack of involvement by the US still astonishes me (but just about everything about the current administration astonishes me). However, it doesn't mean that we can't participate in the Billion Tree Campaign with or without our government's support. No harm can be done by planting a tree.