Coral Reef Conservation & Research

CWORI is dedicated to the conservation of Coral Reefs through research, resource management, and education for a sustainable future.

The Challenges Facing Our Coral Reefs

an underwater image of infected coral

In the past 50 years, the structural complexity of Caribbean coral reefs has declined dramatically. This decline has been attributed to the loss of important reef-building coral species such as the branching Elkhorn corals (Acropora palmata) and Staghorn corals (Acropora cervicornis), Massive Lobed star coral (Orbicella annularis), the Mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata), and the Boulder star coral (Orbicella franksi).

These five coral species are considered to be “ecosystem engineers.”
In other words, without these corals, coral reef ecosystems cannot function properly.  They are unable to create, modify, and maintain coral reef habitats and provide homes for coral reef animals. Although these five species of coral are listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act, their numbers have continued to decline throughout the Caribbean, especially here in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

an underwater image of infected coral

Since the first coral disease outbreak
was recorded in the early 1970’s…

Around the Globe

Approximately 29 diseases
have been observed in
106 species of coral
and in 54 countries

(Spalding et al. 2001)

Wider Caribbean Region

Approximately 18 coral diseases
have been described that affect
43 species of scleractinian coral,
specifically species of important
reef-building corals

(Weil and Rogers 2011)

underwater image of infected and diseased coral

In the Caribbean, seven coral diseases including black band disease (BBD), white plague disease (WPD), white band disease (WBD), white pox disease (WPX), dark spots disease (DSD), yellow band disease (YBD), and Caribbean ciliate infection (CCI) have had the most significant impact on coral reef community structure until now.

One of the most recent coral diseases that has significantly affected our hard coral communities is the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD). SCTLD is a highly lethal and contagious coral disease that affects more than half of all stony coral species in the USVI including old, reef-building corals and corals listed under the Endangered Species Act. SCTLD kills the coral’s living tissue, leaving behind a bare, white skeleton. Once a coral is infected with SCTLD, it can die within days although some can last months; this is the case for massive, hundred-year-old corals as well as smaller colonies. Once the entire coral colony is dead, there is no chance of its coming back to life.

Click HERE to learn more about SCTLD, the coral disease killing our coral reefs in the US Virgin Islands.


How We Are Helping

underwater image of a woman in scuba gear taking survey notes of diseased coral

As a member of the Virgin Islands Coral Disease Advisory Committee, CWORI is actively involved in the management and mitigation of this terrible coral disease. Since SCTLD was first observed at Coki Point reef in the winter of 2020, CWORI’s Conservation Manager, Logan Williams, has dedicated her time to studying and fighting this terrible coral disease.

As CWORI’s St. Thomas (STT) Strike Team Lead, Logan Williams is in charge of this massive effort which includes but is not limited to: performing direct interventions at Coki Point to help:

  • Save infected corals and to reduce the spread of SCTLD between corals and reefs.
  • Survey Coral World’s disease monitoring station to help scientists at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) understand how this disease is spreading in coral communities.
  • Identify potential resistance in some coral individuals.

Click HERE to learn more about VI-CDAC, the research being done by UVI, and the STT strike team.

a collage of 4 images of scuba divers treating diseased coral
before and after images of pillar coral after SCTLD stopped by treatment


CWORI manages a land-based nursery at Coral World Ocean Park that houses multiple species of corals, some of which are highly susceptible to SCTLD. Many of these corals were removed from the field with active SCTLD lesions and were treated and rehabilitated in CWORI’s and UVI’s land-based nursery facilities. These corals will remain at Coral World for gene banking and breeding purposes.

CWORI uses the micro fragmentation method, a relatively recent restoration method, to propagate massive coral species. Using a band-saw, large corals are cut into very small pieces that are grown in coral water tables. This method stimulates the growth rates of large coral species within a short period of time.” Within a couple of years, nursery-reared corals will be transplanted to nearby depleted coral reefs where they will be monitored for survival and growth.

CWORI is in the process of installing in-water coral nursery structures to grow Elkhorn, Staghorn, and Finger corals!

If you are interested in our coral nursery project, head down to the Undersea Observatory at Coral World Ocean Park. In the near future, there you will see our ocean-based coral nursery tree and the Staghorn fragments growing on it!

If you would like to participate in this study, CLICK HERE to contact our Conservation Manager, Logan Williams.

CWORI offers many ways to help protect our marine environment.
Click below to find the path that works best for you.

See how you can help