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June 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 38, No. 6   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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This Time, It’s Not the Lionfish’s Fault

from the June, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

From Sombrero Reef in the Florida Keys to the waters of West Palm Beach, red barrel sponges are disintegrating at worrisome rates. The culprit is unknown, and Florida's scientists are trying to figure out how widespread the disease outbreak is.

Ed Tichenor of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue first observed sponges disintegrating at the end of April. By the first week of May, he confirmed they were dying from Breakers Reef in Palm Beach south to at least Delray Beach. Similar observations have been made in Broward, Key Biscayne and the Florida Keys. Rob Ruzicka, program manager at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, told the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, "As far as we can tell, this is the largest event we've seen so far, at least in Florida."

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 need to find out if it's a widespread pandemic, and, if so, how much of the sponge population it is affecting."

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