The Pillar Coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus), has moved from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List after its population shrunk by over 80% across most of its range since 1990. The most urgent threat is from Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, which has emerged in the past four years and is highly contagious, infecting between 90 and 100 meters of reef per day.
Bleaching caused by increased sea surface temperatures and excess antibiotics, fertilizers, and sewage running into the sea have also weakened corals and made them more susceptible to disease, according to the IUCN. Overfishing around coral reefs has also depleted the number of grazing fish, allowing algae to dominate and putting further pressure on corals.
“The Pillar Coral is just one of the 26 corals now listed as Critically Endangered in the Atlantic Ocean, where almost half of all corals are now at elevated risk of extinction due to climate change and other impacts,” said Dr. Beth Polidoro, Associate Professor at Arizona State University and Red List Coordinator for the IUCN SSC Coral Specialist Group. “These alarming results emphasize the urgency of global cooperation and action to address climate change impacts on ocean ecosystems.”
Pillar Corals are found throughout the Caribbean from the Yucatan Peninsula and Florida to Trinidad and Tobago. In 2019 we reported on the work carried out by The Florida Aquarium to rescue the last 50 colonies of Pillar Coral alive in Florida waters. Due to a fantastic effort by the team, the corals were collected and later captive spawned for the first time.
In 2020 coral scientists collected wild Pillar Coral spawn in a synchronized spawning event, and in 2021 NOAA’s National Centres for Coastal Ocean Science also developed an antibiotic treatment to apply to corals affected by Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD.) All of the above ex-situ conservation efforts combine a proportion of skills, methods, products, experience, and funding gained from the reef aquarium industry.