Solutions needed to address detrimental impact of ‘Skittle-D’ Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, says Environment and Natural Resources Minister

Dr. Rhianna Neely-Murphy, Director, Department of Environmental Protection and Planning, speaks at the conclave to address the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (Skittle-D).

The government has created a task Force to tackle the issue of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (Skittle-D), a highly lethal coral disease which is threatening the health of coral ecosystems in The Bahamas.

The Department of Environmental Protection and Planning (DEPP) under the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MENR) along with the Perry Institute for Marine Science (PIMS) hosted a conclave Tuesday, April 18, 2023 to address the disease.

Researchers and representatives of NGOs and government agencies met at Breezes Resort, Cable Beach, to participate in the one-day event. Phedra Rahming-Turnquest, permanent secretary, and Dr. Lester Gittens, director of Marine Resources were present.

DEPP Director, Dr. Rhianna Neely-Murphy led the conclave. She said as one of the agencies in The Bahamas tasked with environmental protection and planning, DEPP takes its job “very seriously”.

“We saw it very important to participate in this initiative with PIMS, other stakeholders in the room and who will be joining us.  Everyone has a role to play and we need to hear the voices of everyone. We have researchers, NGOs and government agencies. This afternoon we will have in the room — the private sector, people who take tourists on tours and interact with coral species on a daily basis.  They have a voice and we need to take into consideration what they are seeing and some of the plans they may potentially have. They are dependent on these corals for their livelihood as well and we need to take all of their points into consideration,” said Dr. Neely-Murphy.

Today’s exchanges are designed to promote coral reef research, coral reef protection and coral reef restoration. Findings and recommendations from the conclave will be used to create a policy document.

The Hon. Vaughn Miller, Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, underscored the importance of corals to The Bahamas.

He said, “Endowed with the world’s third largest barrier reef, corals are inseparably a part of The Bahamian culture; coral reefs are a major fabric of our lives. They are ecologically important, and play a vital role in supporting the economy and livelihoods that depend on them. They act as natural barriers, protecting coastlines from erosion and storm surge during severe weather events. When corals suffer, so does our culture. When corals die, so does an important part of our fabric.”

Minister Miller told participants that the time has come for the nation to move beyond treatment and to become more pro-active with solutions to address the detrimental impact of Skittle-D.

Said the Minister, “Our marine environment, if left unchecked, can accelerate coral destruction.

“Skittle-D disease is spreading quickly. Scientists have already confirmed the presence of Skittle-D on Andros, Grand Bahama, New Providence, Eleuthera, San Salvador, Long Island, Abaco, Exuma and the Cays, Cat Island and the Berry Islands.

“Treatment has been approved through PIMS, the main organizers of today’s conclave, with mixed results. We need to position the country to be ahead of the problem.”

According to Minister Miller, the Task Force will undertake the following:

-develop and implement strategies to prevent the spread of Skittle-D;
-help to understand how reef condition varies over space, time and under different threat regimes;
-explore how protection and restoration can reduce or even reverse the decline of coral reefs;
-and seek to prevent permanent loss and damage of the country’s culturally and economically important reef building system.

Topics for the day’s agenda included: an Overview of Skittle D and The Bahamas Skittle D Task Force and Government Priorities, Who is Doing What: an opportunity for government agencies and partners to share their work focused on Skittle D, What Can Be Done and What Can We Do More Of, among others.

By KATHRYN CAMPBELL/Bahamas Information Services

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