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

Two new candidates for Chilliwack-Kent riding

B.C. NDP and B.C. Greens announce candidates to run against incumbent Throness

Sunny skies ahead for Fraser Valley this week

Rain and smoke nowhere in the forecast after weeks of weather alerts

UPDATE: Traffic moving again after rollover on Highway 1 in Chilliwack

This is the second collision in four days in the same area of the highway in the ess curves

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

PJHL delays start of season as teams struggle to secure facilities

The junior B hockey league was hoping to start Sept. 29 but is now targeting mid-October

QUIZ: Do you know what’s on TV?

Fall is normally the time when new television shows are released

A (virtual) walk around the world by 88-year-old B.C. man

George Doi says it’s simple: ‘I like walking’

End of CERB means uncertainty for some, new system for others

As of a week ago, the CERB had paid out $79.3 billion to 8.8 million people

Horgan, Wilkinson trade barbs over MSP premiums, health care at campaign stops

Horgan called a snap election for Oct. 24 earlier this week

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

VIDEO: COVID won’t dampen Lower Mainland woman’s Halloween spirit

Langley’s Tanya Reid posted video offering suggestions of how trick-or-treating might look for her

PHOTOS: 2nd calf in a month confirmed among Southern Resident killer whale pod

Center for Whale Research said they will eagerly await to observe the calf to evaluate its health

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

Most Read