It’s estimated the 19 known reefs in the Salish Sea filter 100-billion litres of water each day, removing up to 90 per cent of bacteria from surrounding waters. Sally Leys photo.

Time to protect B.C.’s unique glass sponge reefs, conservation group says

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

A conservation group is calling for the government to protect a particular kind of reef unique to B.C., following a recent study that shows the “serious and immediate threats” posed by climate change and competition from the commercial fishing sector.

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society-British Columbia is asking for the establishment of Marine Protected Areas for the province’s glass sponge reefs, a fragile reef that provides vital habitat for all kinds of marine animals within the Hecate Strait, Southern Strait of Georgia, Chatham Sound, and Howe Sound.

Bottom-contact fishing closures have been in place since 2015 for nine reefs in the Georgia Strait. With the discovery of five new reefs in Howe Sound last year, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) also created eight new marine refuge areas.

But Ross Jameson, the society’s ocean conservation manager, said these closures can theoretically be lifted at anytime by the current or future fisheries ministers, and it’s time to give the reefs the permanent protection of MPA designation.

READ MORE: Glass sponge reefs recommended as UNESCO World Heritage Site

“Marine Protected Areas will not only protect glass sponge reefs from physical damage caused by bottom-contact fishing, they will also act as natural climate solutions,” Ross said.

“Canada recognizes that we have something unique and vulnerable on our hands, and the government has shown it really wants to be the champion of protecting them … because they just aren’t found anywhere else in the world. We have seen some really good initiative and we want to see them keep up the momentum.”

B.C.’s glass sponge reefs provide critical habitat for 87 forms of sea life, including rockfish, prawns and herring. The filter feeders also play an important role cleaning the water of microbes and particles, while scrubbing the ocean floor of organic carbon at rates similar to old growth forests.

According to University of British Columbia research released last month, it’s estimated the 19 known reefs in the Salish Sea filter 100-billion litres of water each day, removing up to 90 per cent of bacteria from their surrounding waters.

The study, led by Angela Stevenson, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC Zoology, demonstrated ocean acidification and warming can have an immediate effect on the reefs’ pumping capacity, and contribute to irreversible tissue withdrawal and weakening of skeletal strength. In lab studies, 50-60 per cent of sponges ceased pumping within one month of gradual exposure to water warmed by 1.8 C, the estimated sea-temperature increase by 2100.

Further environmental data suggests irreversible damage is possible at just 0.5 C above current conditions.

Glass sponge reefs were thought to have been extinct since the Jurassic period until their rediscovery off Haida Gwaii in 1987. These four reefs, 9,000 years old and covering 1,000 square-km, are the largest known examples and were given MPA clasification in 2017.

READ MORE: Fishing closures for Glass Sponge Reefs on the North Coast

Some commercial fishing groups were critical of the decision, saying they fully supported the classification but the size of the area in which fishing was prohibited, almost 150 per cent larger than the reefs’ actual footprint, took away important fishing grounds.

In an email response to Black Press Media, DFO didn’t comment on whether the reefs were under consideration for MPA classification, but noted such a move will require wide-spread consultations first.

“Any future decisions on protection measures for these reefs will be guided by DFO policies and legislation … Any decisions will factor in conservation objectives, an ecosystem-based approach, socio-economic considerations, the input and feedback from the Province, First Nations communities, as well as the views and interests from commercial and recreational harvesters, and other interest groups.”

Ross said he encourages more government-led conversations between all interest groups.



quinn.bender@blackpress.ca

ConservationFisheries and Oceans Canada

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

Just Posted

Two 15-year-olds arrested for mischief after windows broken at Colwood elementary school

Police arrest one suspect but were called back to the school for a second

Flying hot dog strikes Saanich pedestrian

Police called to 4200-block of Quadra Street for hot dog incident

View Royal fire chief calls for realistic solutions to ‘mess’ at Thetis Lake

Emergency crews harassed while extinguishing brush fire, rescuing drunk 15-year-old during long weekend calls

$3,700 worth of bikes stolen in Oak Bay in just three days

Police receive reports of four stolen bikes from July 27 to 29

Ocean Boulevard could open after Labour Day

Colwood council expected to discuss options later this month

Airlines dispute Dr. Henry’s claim they ‘very rarely’ give accurate COVID contact tracing info

Air Canada, WestJet say they provide names and contact information

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Aug. 4

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

B.C. scientist, 63, protests in trees set to be removed for Trans Mountain pipeline

Tim Takaro is reaching new heights as he tries to stall the pipeline expansion project in New Westminster

Dwindling B.C. bamboo supply leaves Calgary Zoo biologists worried about pandas

Zoo has been trying to send pandas back to China since May

Dinosaurs revived for animatronic auction in Langley

More than 500 robot dinosaurs, fossils, and exhibition gear are going on the block Aug. 6

B.C. paramedics responded to a record-breaking 2,700 overdose calls in July

Province pledges $10.5 million for expansion of overdose prevention response

Canada signs deals with Pfizer, Moderna to get doses of COVID-19 vaccines

Earlier in July both Pfizer and Moderna reported positive results from smaller trials

Canucks tame Minnesota Wild 4-3 to even NHL qualifying series

J.T. Miller leads Vancouver with goal and an assist

Cyclist in hospital after being hit by load of lumber hanging from truck on B.C. highway

A man is in hospital with broken ribs, punctured lung and a broken clavicle and scapula

Most Read