Red barrel sponges from Delray Ledge north to Breakers Reef are being attacked and killed by a mysterious disease, according to divers with Palm Beach County Reef Rescue.
Ed Tichenor, who first observed the problem, says what's most alarming is the rate at which the disease is killing the sponges. On April 11, Reef Rescue explored the waters and didn't see any signs of ailing sponges. Two weeks later, on April 27, Tichenor documented 51 barrel sponges undergoing pigment loss. By May 6, many of the sponges that were turning yellow from pigment loss were disintegrating.
Tichenor tells New Times that he sees barrel sponges dying on a regular basis, just never to this extent. The yellow stuff in the video is the sponge itself, after the pigment has been expelled.
"Usually, what we see is a random sponge or two dying," he says. "But at the locations where we shot the video, we estimate that between 15 to 20 percent of them are disintegrating."
While the problem has been documented from Delray Beach north to Palm Beach, Tichenor says it likely spans south into Broward. He's trying to hook up with some divers in the Fort Lauderdale area to confirm these suspicions.
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It's unclear what's causing the sponges to puke up their pigment and disintegrate. Tichenor has received several emails from researchers who have seen similar die-offs in the Caribbean, but they're not sure what the culprit is.
On Friday, Tichenor is taking a few researchers from Nova Southeastern University underwater for further investigations. He's also encouraging divers, snorkelers, and boat captains to document any similar sightings and forward the coordinates to the Palm Beach County Reef Rescue.