Herpes May Be Killing Off Coral Reefs

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Michele Westmorland / The Image Bank / Getty Images

A healthy reef system with schooling pyramid butterfly fish (Hemitaurichthys polyepis) off the Palau Islands in Micronesia.

It appears that coral may have skipped a few high-school health classes. Scientists have recently discovered coral seems to have contracted one of those diseases that your gym teacher and sex ed instructor warned you about.

But this is no joke. Over the last decade, researchers have noted a significant decrease in the world’s coral populations. Now scientists are finally getting to the root of the problem and have discovered that a viral infection may be one of the reasons for the global decline in coral. But not just any viral infection — specifically, it’s herpes.

Yes, a strain of the same virus that spawns a thousand jokes about The Bachelor may be the cause of plummeting coral populations around the world. A blog post on Discovery notes that microbiologists recently found numerous varieties of the herpes virus infecting coral. Rebecca Vega-Thurber, a microbiologist at Oregon State University, said in a press release, said in a press release that the team was “shocked” to find that so many coral viruses were in the herpes family.

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So will marine scientists be dumping boatloads of medicine into the ocean? Unlikely. “Just because you harbor a virus doesn’t mean you are getting sick from it,” Vega-Thurber told Discovery. “This is part of what we have to pin down with further research.”

Coral can be adversely affected by human diseases. As TIME noted in 2011, in an article titled How a Microbe in Humans Is Killing Coral, scientists know that the bacterium Serratia marcescens caused the coral disease “white pox,” and it originated with humans. This bacterium produces lesions that eat away at the elkhorn coral in the Carribbean—so much so the coral is now listed under the Endangered Species Act.

While herpes in humans and coral may not be the same strain, just to be safe, maybe we should make sure Bachelor Pad is filmed far far away from any coral reefs. Or at least make sure our reefs are protected.

PHOTOSThe Wondrous World of the Imperiled Coral Reefs