Corals rescued from disease spreading along Florida's southeastern coast

Corals from Florida's west coast are being rescued and brought to Florida Aquarium's Center for Conservation in Apollo Beach.

According to Keri O'Neil, the coral nursery manager, 100 corals were delivered over the past month to escape a deadly disease known as Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease.

"As someone who's worked with corals for 20 years, I honestly have never been in this position where I was literally forming an emergency rescue project for corals in Florida," said O'Neil.

Teams from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and other partnering organizations are saving healthy corals from the deadly disease that scientists say is wiping out 90 to 95 percent of some of the affected coral species.

O'Neil said it was first reported in 2014 off Miami-Dade County. Now, she said it is spreading along the southeastern coastline.

The rescued corals are being treated and protected in Apollo Beach and researchers said they're expecting 3,000 more to arrive over the year. The corals will be held at public aquariums across the country.

Scientists said they plan to reproduce the corals, as well. 

The work is conducted under permit by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. 

According to O'Neil, not much is known about what causes the disease. For now, those involved with the project are focusing on saving what they can.

"Our fisheries depend on coral reefs, our beaches depend on coral reefs for protection, and once they're gone we'll start to feel the effects of that," said O'Neil. "So we need to protect them now, in order to prevent the loss of all the other species that depend on them."