Detail of one of B.C.’s 25 known glass sponge reefs. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society-BC is calling on the federal government to extend refuge protections for six newly discovered reefs. Sally Leys photo

B.C. group renews call for protection of newly discovered glass sponge reefs

DFO says public consultation will play heavy role in future protection measures

The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society has renewed its call for stronger protections of B.C.’s glass sponge reefs, amid mounting threats from bottom-contact fisheries, climate change and the recent discovery of a dead sponge garden in Howe Sound.

Once thought to be extinct since the Jurassic period, the 25 glass sponge reefs along B.C.’s coast are the planet’s last-known in existence, filtering billions of liters of ocean water daily and providing critical habitat for an array of sealife including prawns, crab and groundfish.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has designated 17 of reefs in the Georgia Strait and Howe Sound as marine refuges and imposed various fishing closures and restrictions.

Last spring the department confirmed the existence of six more reefs in Howe Sound (one of which was dead), but have yet to extend any protections against fishing activities.

The B.C. chapter of CPAWS says DFO needs to act.

“If we don’t move on this fast enough…we don’t want fishing events, like prawn traps being dropped on glass sponge,” CPAWS-BC ocean campaigner Carlo Acuña said. “Right now if these events do happen there’s no legal recourse to get them to stop, or have them to pay for any damage.”

READ MORE: Man hooks massive fine fishing in MPA of Haida Gwaii

He added incidents involving protected reefs last month have elevated the urgency.

Between July 2 and 4 DFO seized about 300 prawn traps originating from one commercial vessel within the Sechelt Glass Sponge Reef Closure. During the investigation officers discovered and seized an additional 250-300 traps in the area along with 400 lbs of live prawns.

Because the investigations are ongoing DFO cannot comment on any potential charges.

In addition to protecting the new southern reefs, CPAWS is asking DFO to extend the buffer zone around those in Hecate Strait, off Haida Gwaii,. The northern reefs are B.C.’s largest, covering 1,000 square-kilometres and reaching eight stories tall. They were given full Marine Protected Area (MPA) designation in 2017, but CPAWS says new research shows extending the buffer from two kilometres to six kilometres is vital to protect the structures from sediment stirred by nearby bottom contact fishing

“By expanding it to six kilometres, it’s actually a really small percentage — I think it’s less than a half per cent of B.C. ocean that’s being taken away, a very very small amount compared to what’s able to be fished,” Acuña said.

READ MORE: Climate change is a “serious and immediate threat” to the 9,000-year old sponges: study

Researchers from the University of Alberta recently discovered a new species of sponge epibionts in the Hecate Strait, strengthening CPAWS’ call for the extension. This so-called demosponge encrusts 20 per cent of the surface of the glass sponge, a number high enough to necessitate further studies into the species’ importance to the reefs.

Meanwhile, a recent UBC study found glass sponge mortality is highly susceptible to slight shifts in their environment brought on by ocean acidification and global warming.

In an email to Black Press Media DFO stated existing protections demonstrates the government’s commitment to the health of all glass sponge reefs, but future decisions will be guided by DFO policy and public consultation.

“[It will] take into account conservation objectives, an ecosystem approach, socio-economic considerations, and the views and interests of Indigenous groups, commercial and recreational harvesters, and other interest groups.”



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

EnvironmentFisheries and Oceans CanadaOcean Protection

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

A diver inspects one of B.C.’s glass sponge reefs. The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society-BC is calling on the federal government to extend refuge protections for six newly discovered reefs. Dale Sanders photo

Just Posted

Extravagant marriage proposal in Ucluelet

“It was such a dream. He brought a dream to life. No one does this anymore.”

Missing mushroom picker found “alive and well” after three-day search in Ucluelet

“It’s always great to have a positive outcome like this.”

Ucluelet mayor criticizes province’s lack of communication as highway closures resume

Daily closures return to only highway in and out of Tofino-Ucluelet

HISTORY COLUMN: Reflecting on the 32nd anniversary of Canada’s apology to Japanese-Canadians

Japanese-Canadians an integral part of Tofino and Ucluelet’s history.

Tofino-Ucluelet region rallies around injured five-month-old puppy

A Hitacu puppy is home and healing after being struck by a vehicle in Hitacu

B.C. reports 91 new cases as officials remain worried over ‘clusters of COVID-19

There have now been a total of 8,395 cases in B.C. since the pandemic began

Transgender B.C. brothers debut fantasy novel as author duo Vincent Hunter

‘Transgender people are being misrepresented in popular fiction and media, and we aim to change that’

‘Won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving:’ Trudeau says COVID-19 2nd wave underway

In all, COVID-19 has killed about 9,250 people in Canada

Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

Dr. Tam repeated her warning to young people, who have made up the majority of recent cases

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

First 8 months of fatal overdoses in B.C. have now exceeded 2019 death toll

Nine people died every two days in August, BC Coroners Service data shows

Liberal effort to reset policy agenda panned by rivals as too much talk, not action

Trudeau said it’s ‘all too likely’ families won’t be able to gather for Thanksgiving next month

‘Show us the money’ for cannabis, local governments tell B.C.

Municipal tax, transit revenues falling as costs rise

Most Read