Terrestrial runoff and sedimentation have been implicated in a variety of impacts on scleractinian corals. However, despite accumulating evidence, little work has been done to investigate their influence on coral disease development. This study examined the role that river runoff and the associated sedimentation could play in affecting the prevalence of the coral disease “white syndrome” in SW Madagascar. Corals from reefs affected by river discharge and terrestrial sediments were more affected by white syndrome than reefs located far from any source of terrestrial runoff. Terrestrial runoff-affected reefs also displayed a wider diversity of coral species affected by this disease. While much evidence has been pointing in the direction of indirect effects of such runoff on coral disease development, our data corroborates earlier suggestions that pathogens are present within the sediments. As such, sediments released on reefs through river discharge could act as reservoirs of coral pathogens.
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