Mixing it up: East End stony coral antibiotic efforts get a boost

Ocean Frontiers dive instructor and marine biologist Sam Lungari, mixes underwater epoxy and antibiotic powder in the powerful Kitchen Aid mixer donated to the dive operation's 'Strike Team' by AL Thompson's, to create a paste that is administered to corals infected by stony coral tissue loss disease. - Photo: Submitted

Divers tackling stony coral tissue loss disease in East End have received a helping hand in the form of a powerful food mixer that can be used to combine underwater epoxy with the antibiotic used to stop the spread of the disease on infected corals.

Steve Broadbelt, owner of Ocean Frontiers, said the welcomed donation of a Commercial Bowl Lift Stand Mixer to his dive shop’s SCTLD Strike Team had been arranged by Katherine Holmes of AL Thompson’s and Kitchen Aid.

The disease, which has been plaguing the local reefs of Grand Cayman since last year, can be treated by applying the special underwater epoxy mixed with a powdered antibiotic.

“However, the mixing of this formula over the last few months has resulted in many handheld mixers burning out and not being up to the task,” Broadbelt said.

This photo shows a stony coral tissue loss disease lesion on a local coral. The lesion is surrounded by white antibiotic paste which prevents the disease pathogens from spreading to the healthy part of the coral. – Photo: DoE

Broadbelt said the Department of Environment has been using a Kitchen Aid Commercial Bowl Lift Stand Mixer to mix the epoxy and antibiotics, and – although not originally designed for lab work – “it has proven to be more than capable for the task”.

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And now, Ocean Frontiers has its own powerful mixer in which the ingredients for the antibiotic paste are mixed together before being put into large syringes.

Divers on SCTLD teams take the syringes with them underwater and carefully administer the paste around the outer edges of the distinctive white lesions on infected corals. The paste has been shown to stop the disease from spreading to the healthy parts of the impacted coral.

With SCTLD efforts expanding to East End, Broadbelt said, the need to set up a treatment mixing station at the Ocean Frontiers dive shop was urgently needed.

“We are delighted with the support offered by AL Thompson and Kitchen Aid for this critical and time-sensitive environmental work,” he said. “Their contribution will make a significant difference to our field operations so we can spend more time in the water treating corals than back on shore mixing treatments.”

Katherine Holmes of AL Thompson’s presents Steve Broadbelt, Ocean Frontiers owner, with a powerful Kitchen Aid food mixer to mix underwater epoxy and antibiotics used to treat corals infected with stony coral tissue loss disease. – Photo: Submitted

The disease was first identified in Florida in 2014, and since then has been found in Mexico and several Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas.

It was seen for the first time in Cayman in June 2020, off Rum Point in North Side, but has now spread along Grand Cayman coastline. So far, there has been no sign of it on the Sister Islands.

The Department of Environment has been organising teams of volunteers and staff to identify instances of SCTLD, and to administer the antibiotic paste to infected corals around Grand Cayman.

This map shows the progression of stony coral tissue loss disease along Grand Cayman’s coastline. – Image: Department of Environment

Dive operators across Cayman, on the directions of the DoE, have disinfection stations in place to decontaminate dive and snorkel gear. The department also advises that, as SCTLD may be spread by bilge water, boat owners should ensure their vessels undergo sanitation processes also. For more information, visit https://doe.ky/marine/sctld.

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  1. Cayman, Glad to see a news article about this subject and to see that the community stepping up to help. Make sure you keep your eye on the ball. The SCTLD represents a greater, long term threat to your island than Covid-19 in my opinion. The disease continues to spread and will soon engulf the entire island, threating the coral reefs that you are so well known for.