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Oceans Wise report recommends implementation of full protection for all of Howe Sound’s glass sponge reefs

Unceded Coast Salish Territory/Vancouver, BC — A new report from Ocean Wise has updated the health status of Howe Sound for 2020. While there is cautious optimism with some health ratings improving, the Ocean Wise report still has many labelled as critical or cautious, including  glass sponge reefs which “remain vulnerable to mechanical damage and climate change.” The report recommends implementing full protection of glass sponge reefs throughout all of Howe Sound.

Long thought extinct, glass sponge reefs mainly grow off BC’s coast.  Not only do these reefs provide important habitat for ocean life such as prawns and rockfish, they also filter ocean water, provide fertilizer for plankton, and store carbon.

Glass sponge reefs are particularly vulnerable to shattering from bottom contact fishing such as prawn traps as they are composed of the same material that makes glass.  A DFO survey, in cooperation with the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society, not only discovered a dead reef near Ellesmere Creek at the north end of Howe Sound, but found historical damage from fishing activities in all of the surveyed reefs.

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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 BC’s glass sponge reefs,” says Ross Jameson, Ocean Conservation Manager for CPAWS-BC.

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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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