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BC’s Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs added to Canada’s Tentative List for World Heritage Sites

Ottawa, Ont. – The holidays are looking brighter this year with the announcement that British Columbia’s Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound glass sponge reefs are being added to Canada’s tentative list for World Heritage Sites.

The nomination to the list was made by the Central Coast First Nations, specifically by the Chiefs of the Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’Xais, Wuikinuxv and Nuxalk Nations, and supported by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and CPAWS.

“The reefs are an international treasure. They are globally unique, incredibly important, and deserving of global recognition as a source of awe and wonder for generations to come,” said Sabine Jessen, CPAWS’ National Ocean Program Director. “The honour of a world heritage site designation would mean international recognition for these extremely rare and delicate reefs.”

The reefs were discovered in 1987 by a team of Canadian scientists surveying the seafloor in Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound, off BC’s north coast. The reefs are over 9,000 years old, reach the height of an eight-storey building, and cover 1,000 km2 of ocean floor. Since their discovery, a handful of smaller reefs have been found elsewhere in BC and Southern Alaska. However, BC’s Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound reefs are by far the largest living glass sponge reefs anywhere in the global ocean.

German scientist Dr. Manfred Krautter, was the first person to realize the global significance of the discovery of living glass sponge reefs in Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound. Dr. Krautter had studied fossilized reefs in Europe for many years and likened the discovery of living glass sponge reefs to finding a herd of dinosaurs on land.  “At first I couldn’t believe it, we thought that glass sponge reefs had gone extinct about 40 million years ago, and then all of a sudden here is this ancient ecosystem alive and well off the coast of Canada, it was really amazing and I knew right away that the reefs should be a World Heritage Site” said Dr. Krautter.

Glass sponge reefs provide important deep-sea habitat for a host of species, from prawns to rockfish and sharks. But the reefs are also tremendously fragile, and not long after their discovery scientists noticed large areas of reef destroyed by bottom trawling, traps, and other harmful fishing activities.

After more than a decade of campaigning by CPAWS the glass sponge reefs were designated as a marine protected area (MPA) by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in February 2017. The reefs are also designated as a “Marine Sanctuary” by Central Coast First Nations due to their ecological and cultural importance. In their letter of nomination, the Chiefs state that, “As coastal First Nations, our culture and well-being are inextricably tied to the sea and the resources it provides… Ensuring the protection of this globally unique area is a priority for our nations.”

“We’re hopeful the World Heritage Committee will recognize the unique value of the glass sponge reefs as the international treasure that they are,” says Jessen.

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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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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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Strait of Georgia’s glass sponge reefs protected!

Conservation groups welcome protection for Strait of Georgia’s unique glass sponge reefs

Credit Sabine Jessen

Vancouver, BC – 5 June 2015 – Local and national conservation groups are welcoming today’s announcement by the federal government of fishing closures for the Strait of Georgia’s glass sponge reefs – a global treasure found nowhere else in the world.

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