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Oceans Act enforces glass sponge reef marine protected area regulations

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – British Columbia (CPAWS-BC) welcomes the conviction of illegal fishing in the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area (Hecate MPA).

Illegal commercial groundfish harvesting was found to have occurred in the marine protected areas. A fine of $20,000 for illegal activity prohibited under the Hecate MPA Regulations, the first conviction under the Oceans Act nationwide. An additional fine, under the Fisheries Act, of $25,000 for possessing illegally caught fish was ordered to be paid.

“We would like to thank Fisheries and Oceans Canada for enforcing MPA regulations under the Oceans Act and protecting B.C.’s glass sponge reefs,” says Ross Jameson, Ocean Conservation Manager for CPAWS-BC.

Map of Marine Protected Areas. DFO, 2020.

Located in the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound off B.C.’s north and central coasts, the Hecate MPA glass sponge reefs are a world treasure. Once thought extinct for millions of years, glass sponge reefs are now known only to live in the northeast Pacific Ocean, mainly off B.C.’s coast.

CPAWS-BC has been working since the early 2000s to protect B.C.’s glass sponge reefs. After years of pushing for protection, we celebrated when the Hecate MPA was created by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in 2017. CPAWS-BC continues to work with First Nations and the Government of Canada to protect other vulnerable glass sponge reefs in B.C.  Enforcement of these Oceans Act MPA regulations will help ensure these rare ecosystems are not destroyed due to human activities.

Glass sponges are filter feeders. They do this so efficiently that 95% of bacteria are filtered out, cleaning the water. In fact, a single small reef can filter enough water to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than 60 seconds! Glass sponge reefs provide shelter for bottom-dwelling creatures such as rockfish and prawns.

Fishing activity can cause severe harm to these fragile habitats. Prawn and crab traps drop down and crush glass sponge reefs. Bottom trawling of heavy nets dragged along the seafloor destroy everything in their path while kicking up clouds of disturbed sediment, that prevent the sponges from feeding. 

While this conviction means that the Hecate MPA is being enforced, more work needs to be done. Jameson says, “Now we need a management plan for this MPA with effective education, outreach, and additional protections to prevent these offences from occurring in the future.”


Fisheries and Oceans Canada. (2020, January 20). Safeguarding our future through the Oceans Act [News Release]. Retrieved

Quillback rockfish on glass sponge reef. Photo Credit: Diane Reid

Sediment Can Make Glass Sponge Reefs Cough and Choke

Graduate student Nathan Grant, sponge expert Dr. Sally Leys, and others from the University of Alberta have conducted the first investigations on how reef-forming glass sponges respond to sediment in natural conditions. The results of the study raise concerning questions about the protection of these unique animals.

Photo by Dale Sanders

Since their discovery in 1987, glass sponge reefs have been thought of as the delicate treasure of BC’s coast. Glass sponge reefs were thought to have gone extinct 40 million years ago, and their discovery has been likened to finding a herd of dinosaurs. Glass sponge reefs are only found in BC and Alaska, forming intricate and towering formations deep on the ocean floor. These reefs form oases amidst the otherwise barren seafloor, attracting numerous species of rockfish, prawns, and sharks. Sadly, these vital ecosystems are vulnerable to damage by sedimentation.

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New ancient glass sponge reef discovered off B.C. Coast

spongereefs2NorthV4A new 12 kilometre long glass sponge reef has been discovered near Prince Rupert in Chatham Sound making it one of the largest glass sponge reefs discovered in BC making it a very significant discovery and a very important ecosystem.  The reef is in the potential pathway of a number of proposed industrial developments so it needs to be protected, and quickly!

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Proposed Protections for BC’s Glass Sponge Reefs Too Weak!

In June 2015, Fisheries and Oceans Canada published the draft regulations for the proposed Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound MPA for public review. CPAWS, alongside other conservation groups, 40 leading international marine scientists and almost 2000 Canadians say that the proposed regulations are not good enough.

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