One half of the dive teams preparing for a dive, watched by Chief Scientist Seaton Taylor wearing orange. The CCGS Vector is in the background. (Nick Murray/News Staff)

Scuba scientists help save endangered marine life off Vancouver Island

Adult northern abalone numbers have plummeted 90 per cent

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) are using scuba diving scientists in their attempts to get vulnerable marine species off the endangered list.

Some of the best scientists in the country work for the DFO and many operate out of the “brain hub” in North Saanich, home to a number of government agencies, such as the Institute of Ocean Sciences and the Geological Survey of Canada.

Next door is a Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) base, where personnel offer logistical support to scientists from a range of universities and government affiliated bodies.

Arresting the decline in northern abalone health and numbers is one such project DFO scientists and the Coast Guard work together on. Using Coast Guard ships and know-how, scientists are able to stay at sea for up to 28 days and access remote areas otherwise beyond their reach.

Last week, a team of eight scientists was installed on board the CCGS Vector with a mission of visiting northern abalone sites off the southern coast of Vancouver Island. They aimed to record specimen measurements, population density and the habitat health of a creature protected under law from harvest.

As well as being excellent in their field, the scientists were a hardy bunch, with decades of experience in scuba diving and piloting boats in squally weather.

They methodically conducted eight one-hour dives a day, suiting up rain or shine, and tossing themselves into the cold water to survey the sites.

Northern abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) is a marine snail, with beautiful shells that have been highly prized in the past. The creature breathes through holes in its shell and filters dissolved oxygen with its gills. It has a muscular foot that is fringed with tentacles and lives among shallow rocks, in patches around B.C.

RELATED: Coast Guard shows off Canadian can-do attitude

These 10- to 160 millimetre-long invertebrates are now on the endangered list and adults have declined 90 per cent since 1978. The molluscs are vulnerable as they live for 20 years, grow slowly, mature late and only reproduce sporadically. Add in habitat loss, an abundance of predators and the biggest threat – illegal harvest – and you have a species struggling to survive the 21st century. Significantly poachers target the larger adults, often leaving young females who produce fewer eggs.

“Right now we’re seeing smaller, younger abalone and not as many big adults in our index sites. Traditionally the minimum size limit for commercial fisheries was 100 millimetres and now we don’t see as many individuals in that size class,” says Shannon Obradovich, stock assessment program head for marine invertebrates at the DFO.

“Population density is some areas of B.C. is so low that successful reproduction is unlikely.”

ALSO READ: BC Ferries launches summer discount promotion

Index sites are investigated every five years and the program has a modest budget of $40,000 that covers sampling supplies, and skiff and dive equipment maintenance costs.

Obradovich thinks using scuba divers is important to give abalone the best chance of survival.

“Northern abalone are an important part of the near-shore ecosystem. They are prey for other animals and they themselves feed on kelp. Historically they have also been important to First Nations in British Columbia, ceremonially and as an important food source.”



nick.murray@peninsulanewsreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

DFO scientists Dominique Bureau and Matt Grinnell between dives on board a Canadian Coastguard boat. (Nick Murray/News Staff)

Just Posted

City says traffic pattern on Bay Street Bridge will stay as is until October

Commuters began facing long waits on Tuesday morning after the east-bound lane was closed

Double lung transplant gives West Shore man second chance

Co-owner of West Shore Barber Shop grateful for every minute of the 16 years transplant has provided

Hallmark movie filming in Oak Bay

Shooting for ‘Sunshine’ continues into June across Greater Victoria

Home where Proctor murder took place removed from Langford’s Affordable Housing Program

Langford woman almost purchased home, decided against it after hearing history

PHOTOS: Victoria youth continue to gather for climate action

Local students participated in a global movement calling for climate action

New airline regulations bring compensation for tarmac delays, over-bookings

Some of the new regulations will roll out in July, while others are expected for December.

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve investigating after sea lion found shot in the head

Animal is believed to have been killed somewhere between Ucluelet and Tofino

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of May 21

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Were you satisfied with the Game of Thrones series finale?

Millions gathered in front of their televisions Sunday night to watch the… Continue reading

B.C. port workers set to strike on Monday in Vancouver

A strike at two container terminals would affect Canadian trade to Asia

Volunteers already rescuing fry from drying creekbeds around Cowichan Lake

It’s early but already salmon fry are being left high and dry

So, they found ‘Dave from Vancouver Island’

Dave Tryon, now 72 and living in North Delta, will reunite with long-ago travelling friends in Monterrey, Calif.

Scheer says it would take Conservatives five years to balance budget

Scheeraccused the Liberal government of spending $79.5 billion of previously unbudgeted funds

Most Read