Coral reefs are under increasing stress from a number of causes, including climate warming, poor water quality and overfishing. Disease outbreaks cause coral loss, and can result in significant changes in community structure, species diversity and reef-associated organisms.
Coral disease stands out as a primary factor in the deterioration of many coral reefs with surveys indicating significant and damaging new diseases are appearing.
Coral diseases potentially impact both well-managed and unmanaged reefs indiscriminately. Strategies for dealing with disease outbreaks are currently non-existent. The increasing frequency with which diseases influence and alter reef communities mean diseases must be considered and incorporated into management plans.
Over the last 20 years, unprecedented increases in disease on coral reefs have contributed significantly to coral reef degradation. Disease-related damage of coral reefs has been well documented in the Caribbean, but recent observations of coral disease in other regions of the world are just beginning. Disease occurrence in these other regions may be a warning sign for increasing outbreaks and impacts associated with increased climate warming.