Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium coral scientists may get one step closer to better understanding a devastating coral disease with the help of a new grant from the Founders Garden Club of Sarasota.

The Founders Garden Club, a member of the Garden Club of America and based in Sarasota, awarded a $20,000 grant to Mote’s Coral Health & Disease Research Program to investigate the potential of microplastics serving as a vector in the spread of coral disease. The leader of this investigation will be Dr. Erinn Muller, Science Director for Mote’s Elizabeth Moore International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration and Manager of Mote’s Coral Disease and Coral Restoration programs.

First identified in 2014 near Virginia Key, FL, stony coral tissue loss diseasehas caused devastation throughout the Florida Reef Tract, spreading all the way to Key West. The disease affects at least 20 different species of coral, causing over 80% mortality in some species. The disease is believed to be a water-borne bacteria, although the exact pathogen is still unknown.

“Thanks to support from the Founders Garden Club, I will be able to pursue a very specific aspect of coral resiliency research, namely the impact of micro-plastics on disease transmission in corals,” said Muller. “Currently, we know very little about how the disease in the Florida Keys is spreading. Findings from this research will help us to better understand the epidemiology of the current disease outbreak and to better prevent future outbreaks from occurring.”

“Founders is extremely proud to be funding a portion of Dr. Muller’s coral research at Mote Marine Laboratory,” said Gina Gregoria, President, Founders Garden Club of Sarasota. “We eagerly await the outcomes of her research and what it can tell us about the sustainability of our oceans’ coral reefs.”

About Founders Garden Club of Sarasota

The Founders Garden Club of Sarasota was established in 1927, with Mabel Ringling serving as its first President and Marie Selby one of its thirty charter members. Since then, Founders remains one of Sarasota’s longest-serving nonprofits, with a commitment to its purpose of civic beautification, community education, and conservation/preservation of natural resources. The Founders GC is also an actively engaged member of the Garden Club of America (GCA) and its mission to restore, improve and protect the quality of the environment through educational programs and action in the fields of conservation and civic improvement. Local community projects undertaken by Founders include the Pines of Sarasota, Ringling Museum of Art, Historic Spanish Point, Historical Society of Sarasota County, Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Selby Gardens, Girl Scouts of Gulf Coast Florida, Community Haven, Sarasota Conservation Foundation, South Florida Museum, Phillippi Estate Park, and the Everglades Foundation.  In addition, Founders awards an annual $2,500 college scholarship for the advancement of degrees in the field of natural/environmental sciences. For more information, please visit Founders’ website: foundersgcsarasota.org

Stony coral tissue loss disease spotted in the Florida Reef Tract on a dive in 2018. Dr. Erinn Muller in her coral disease lab at Mote Marine Laboratory.