The disease is extremely contagious. Nearest elkhorn coral neighbors were most likely to become infected. Once white pox appeared on a reef, it spread to all areas on the reef within one year and also spread rapidly between reefs. Most of the loss found by the UGA team occurred between 1996 and 2000 when the average loss of elkhorn coral on the Florida reefs studied was 85 percent.
"These results suggest that we may be killing the goose that lays the golden egg," said Porter. "Despite the trends in our data, we still remain hopeful that the surviving coral will repopulate the reef. We must maintain the highest possible water quality standards in the Florida Keys. These coral reefs are so beautiful and so important. We must do our best to protect them."
The EPA and the State of Florida, in consultation with NOAA, have developed a Water Quality Protection Program (WQPP) for the Florida Keys. NOAA incorporated the WQPP into its Final Management Plan for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The purpose of the WQPP is to recommend priority corrective actions and compliance schedules addressing sources of pollution and to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Sanctuary. These findings will bolster ongoing efforts to implement the WQPP and provide improved treatment of wastewater and stormwater in the Florida Keys.