Fast Moving Coral Disease in ABC Islands Needs a Fast Response

WWF-NL is concerned about the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) that is destroying the coral reefs of the Caribbean region. SCTLD infections spread rapidly from one coral colony to the next. Once a coral colony is infected the disease can kill up to 4 cm of coral tissue per day and has a 60 -100% mortality rate. This disease has been confirmed in the islands of Bonaire, Curaçao and most recently Aruba. WWF-NL urges for swift actions and investments for the long term to save corals for the future.


The island governments together with the marine park management authorities are implementing several levels of response that have been developed by experts in the Caribbean region. Response efforts to slow the spread vary per island and include actions such as monitoring and analyzing the progression of the disease, and taking the pressure off reefs by limiting access to sites. However, WWF-NL is concerned that actions are not being taken swiftly enough. SCTLD is currently killing coral reefs of the region more rapidly than all the other threats combined. It is the most urgent threat and must be given top priority, or else the region will have significant future repercussions. Not only should the immediate threat of SCTLD be addressed, but investments must be made for the long term to save corals for the future. There is a need to scale up long-term protection for coral reefs from continued ocean warming and its crucial to reduce poor seawater quality, pollution, overfishing of grazers, sedimentation and discharge of ballast water. These stressors must be tackled simultaneously.

Below: Corals in Bonaire affected by SCTLD. Footage captured on three dates by Ellen Muller: April 6 & 19 and May 2, 2023

For years, WWF-NL and many stakeholders in the region have been calling attention to the urgent need for greater investment in the protection of coral reefs. This resulted in the Nature and Environment Policy Plan of the Caribbean Netherlands 2020 -2030. The plan includes measures to reduce local pressures on reefs such as erosion and pollution in order to build resilience to climate change and other global drivers. Coral reefs are the rainforests of the ocean. It is essential to protect and preserve them because coral reefs not only support 25% of all life in the ocean, but they are also a cornerstone of the economy of the ABC islands. From fisheries to tourism, many peoples’ livelihoods are dependent upon the ecosystem services of coral reefs.

WWF-NL will support stakeholders in this emergency response effort to slow the spread of SCTLD and preserve coral reefs for future generations. Saving the reefs of the ABC islands will be a significant and complex undertaking and require a substantial capacity increase of both human and financial resources. The time to act is now.