Characterizations of the major coral diseases of the Philippines: Ulcerative white spot disease and novel growth anomalies of Porites

Longin Kaczmarsky, Florida International University


Coral reefs are in decline worldwide and coral disease is a significant contributing factor. However, etiologies of coral diseases are still not well understood. In contrast with the Caribbean, extremely little is known about coral diseases in the Philippines. In 2005, off Southeast Negros Island, Philippines, I investigated relationships between environmental parameters and prevalence of the two most common coral diseases, ulcerative white spot (UWS) and massive Porites growth anomalies (MPGAs). Samples were collected along a disease prevalence gradient 40.5 km long. Principal component analyses showed prevalence of MPGAs was positively correlated with water column nitrogen, organic carbon of surface sediments, and colony density. UWS was positively correlated with water column phosphorus. This is the first quantitative evidence linking anthropogenically-impacted water and sediment to a higher prevalence of these diseases. Histological and cytological alterations were investigated by comparing tissues from two distinct types of MPGA lesions (types 1 and 2) and healthy coral using light and electron microscopy. Skeletal abnormalities and sloughing, swelling, thinning, and loss of tissues in MPGAs resembled tissues exposed to bacterial or fungal toxins. Both lesion types had decreases in symbiotic zooxanthellae, which supply nutrients to corals. Notable alterations included migrations of chromophore cells (amoebocytes) (1) nocturnally to outer epithelia to perform wound-healing, including plugging gaps and secreting melanin in degraded tissues, and (2) diurnally to the interior of the tissue possibly to prevent shading zooxanthellae in order to maximize photosynthate production. Depletion of melanin (active in wound healing) in type 2 lesions suggested type 2 tissues were overtaxed and less stable. MPGAs contained an abundance of endolithic fungi and virus-like particles, which may result from higher nutrient levels and play roles in disease development. Swollen cells and mucus frequently blocked gastrovascular canals (GVCs) in MPGAs. Type 1 lesions appeared to compensate for impeded flow of wastes and nutrients through these canals with proliferation of new GVCs, which were responsible for the observed thickened tissues. In contrast, type 2 tissues were thin and more degraded. Dysplasia and putative neoplasia were also observed in MPGAs which may result from the tissue regeneration capacity being overwhelmed.

Subject Area

Biological oceanography|Environmental Health

Recommended Citation

Kaczmarsky, Longin, "Characterizations of the major coral diseases of the Philippines: Ulcerative white spot disease and novel growth anomalies of Porites" (2009). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3394831.