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Five more glass sponge reefs in Howe Sound protected by new closures

As conservationists and researchers celebrate the announcement of new protections for five more glass sponge reefs in Howe Sound, several societies, including CPAWS-BC, are also calling for more enforcement in the fragile habitat areas. 

ID: Underwater photo of white tubular glass sponges with new reefs circled

Damage likely caused by bottom contact fishing, as seen on a glass sponge reef in Halkett Bay Marine Provincial Park.Adam Taylor/MLSS photo

All Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Now Protected From Bottom Contact Fishing

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – British Columbia (CPAWS-BC) is pleased to see five new protections announced for glass sponge reefs in Átl’ka7tsem/Howe Sound. These new fishing closures prohibit bottom contact fishing such as trawling and prawn trapping from destroying these rare and ancient ecosystems.

ID: blue outlines around protected glass sponge reefs o fHowe Sound map

Map of Atl’ka7tsem / How Sound by Jacob Chila, GIS Analyst at CPAWS-BC

 

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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New research prompts call for urgent protection of BC’s glass sponge reefs

A new study led by Angela Stevenson at the University of British Columbia indicates that ongoing climate change is a serious and immediate threat to BC’s ancient glass sponge reefs. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society – British Columbia (CPAWS-BC) calls for the urgent establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs) for glass sponge reefs in BC.

Glass sponge reef ecosystems shelter rockfish and prawns and are efficient filter feeders. Healthy glass sponge reef marine protected areas can filter out up to 90% of bacteria from ocean water and work to keep carbon locked in the seafloor.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), along with the Marine Life Sanctuaries Society (MLSS), recently verified five new living glass sponge reefs and one dead reef during scientific surveys in Howe Sound. These reefs need urgent protection if they are to adapt and survive against threats from climate change and human activity.

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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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Saving Canada’s Sea of Glass: Welcoming Canada’s Newest MPA

CPAWS is celebrating a new marine protected area for Canada’s ancient and unique glass sponge reefs in BC’s Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound! CPAWS has been working to protect these reefs for over 16 years.

This incredible announcement did not go unnoticed. We were absolutely over-the-moon to see a congratulatory tweet from “Her Deepness”, world-renowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle, and equally excited to see Leonardo DiCaprio share our glass sponge reef video via his social media pages to a global audience of millions of people. See the video below!

“We are overjoyed to see these reefs finally get the protection they need as Canada’s newest Marine Protected Area,” said Sabine Jessen, CPAWS’ National Ocean Program Director. “The reefs are an international treasure, they are globally unique, incredibly important, and deserving of strong protection so that they can remain a source of awe and wonder for generations to come,” adds Jessen.

The living glass sponge reefs are over 9,000 years old, reach the height of an eight-storey building, and cover 1,000 km2 of ocean floor. Like coral reefs, the glass sponge reefs provide important habitat for many ecologically and commercially important species, like spot prawns, rockfish, and sharks.

“Glass sponges are as fragile as they sound. They have the consistency of a baked meringue or prawn chips, and are very easily damaged,” said Jessen. Heavy fishing gear like bottom trawl nets and prawn traps can crush the delicate reefs, while the sediment plumes kicked up as equipment is dragged along the sea floor can smother and choke the sponges.

“Tragically, we think about 50 per cent of the glass sponge reefs have already been destroyed by bottom trawlers and other heavy fishing gear,” adds Jessen.

Initially, the proposal for the MPA did not prohibit these harmful activities from happening right next to the reefs, putting the reefs at risk from further damage. After receiving thousands of letters from Canadians, as well as a letter from more than 40 international marine scientists, all demanding better protection of the reefs, the federal government strengthened the protection measures. The MPA will now prohibit all bottom contact fishing activities from occurring within at least 1 kilometre of the reefs until it can be proven they are not harmful, and will implement more stringent measures for the midwater trawl fisheries through fisheries closures.

“We are pleased to see that the Government of Canada has taken the necessary steps to improve the protection of the reefs and that the government has taken a much more precautionary approach to the design and management of this MPA. We firmly believe that there will be significant long-term benefits of strongly protecting the reefs that will outweigh the small impacts to the fishing industry,” said Jessen. “As an important nursery habitat for many commercially important species, many fisheries depend on the reefs, so protecting them will ensure the long-term sustainability of these fisheries,” Jessen added.

BC’s Glass Sponge Reefs Announced as Mission Blue Hope Spot

Credit Sally Leys:DFO:Ropos

Credit: Sally Leys/DFO/Ropos

September 13, 2016 (Vancouver): The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society is celebrating the recent designation of the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs as a Mission Blue Hope Spot. Hope Spots are described by Mission Blue as “special places that are critical to the health of the ocean” and are particularly deserving of protection. The reefs were one of just 14 sites around the world chosen for this special recognition.

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