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Hanert, Emmanuel

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For the last 7 years, Florida's Coral Reef (FCR) has suffered from widespread and severe coral loss caused by stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD). First observed off the coast of Miami-Dade county in 2014, the outbreak has since spread throughout the entirety of FCR and some areas of the Caribbean. However, the propagation of the disease through FCR seemed to slow down when it reached the western end of the Marquesas in August 2020. Despite being present about 30 km (similar to 20 miles) from the Dry Tortugas (DRTO), SCTLD was not reported in this area before May 2021. As SCTLD transmission is likely to be waterborne, here we suggest that this apparently delayed propagation is related to eddy activity near the DRTO under the influence of the Loop Current/Florida Current system. To quantify the impact of the local ocean circulation on the spread of SCTLD from the Marquesas and the DRTO, we evaluated the hydrodynamic-predicted connectivity between these two regions using a high-resolution hydro-epidemiological model between May 2018 and May 2021. Our results suggest that the Marquesas and the DRTO were not connected during February-October 2020 and January-May 2021. These periods coincided with either the occurrence of Tortugas gyres and mean circulation with an eastward component between the Marquesas and the DRTO or the presence of southward currents. Our results suggest that disease agents probably reached the DRTO in November 2020 and that they most likely originated from southern or northwestern reefs of the Marquesas. This study provides novel insight into the role played by the hydrodynamics in the spread of SCTLD within the western-most edge of FCR, and in propagating the disease to uninfected locations.

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