The glass sponge reef in Chatham Sound is thought to be one of the oldest in the world. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

The glass sponge reef in Chatham Sound is thought to be one of the oldest in the world. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

Protecting rare, ancient glass sponge reefs

Dr. Stephanie Archer on glass sponge reefs on the North Coast for the marine speakers series

Lying on the seafloor, not far from the shores of Prince Rupert, are ancient and rare glass sponge reefs that, until recently, were believed to have gone extinct 40 million years ago. At the Northwest Community College on Nov. 15, Dr. Stephanie Archer presented her research about the reefs.

“We still don’t know that they exist anywhere else in the world. So it’s an ecosystem that is almost purely Canadian, which is pretty cool,” Dr. Stephanie Archer said ahead of her talk.

Until the reef in Hecate Strait was discovered in 1987, scientists believed glass sponge reefs were extinct. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada, University of Alberta and Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility)

The discovery of the glass sponge reefs in Chatham Sound went unnoticed for three years, until the data was uncovered in early 2016. The Hecate Strait reefs are estimated to be 9,000 years old, but were only discovered in 1987. Age is often determined by size and thickness, since reefs grow when the juvenile sponges settle on the skeletons of the previous generation. The Chatham Sound reef is believed to be even older than those in Hecate Strait, because it is 10 metres taller, measured at 30 metres.

“Which means they might be the oldest reefs we know about,” Archer said.

This past year, the federal government place a moratorium on the area that covers both reefs.

READ MORE: FISHING CLOSURES FOR GLASS SPONGE REEFS ON THE NORTH COAST

“You might guess from their name, glass sponge reefs are incredibly fragile because the skeletons that built them are literally made of glass,” Archer said.

“When things like trawls or traps hit them, they will just shatter. That’s not only bad for the living sponges themselves, but it’s bad for the continuation of the whole ecosystem.”

Aside from their rarity, the glass sponge reefs help counteract global climate change, because they feed on small bacteria and trap carbon and nitrogen, preventing them from escaping into the atmosphere. Dr. Archer said this can also reduce ocean acidification.

The ecosystem the reefs create supports other life too. Large numbers of halibut, rockfish and prawns have been documented on them, and researchers believe the glass sponges act as a nursing ground for rockfish.

Dr. Stephanie Archer presented her glass sponge reef research at Northwest Community College in Prince Rupert on Nov. 15 (Submitted)

“99.9 per cent of the sponge reefs that we know about in the world occur in Canada. It’s truly a Canadian issue to take care of this ecosystem,” Archer said.

“I think sponges are some of the coolest animals on the planet. I hope [people who attend the talk] get a sense of wonder and amazement about sponges and what they can do … and what we can do to protect them.”

Some tips Archer recommends include being aware if bits of sponge are coming up in your traps, and avoiding those areas when fishing in the future. The public can get involved in Fisheries and Oceans, and attend public engagement sessions with conservation initiatives, such as when the marine protected area plan for northern B.C. comes out in early 2018.

It all comes down to “trying to make smart choices about where you fish,” she said. “Getting involved and being vocal about wanting to see the areas that we do know have these reefs protected.”

READ MORE: REEF DISCOVERY GOES UNNOTICED



keili.bartlett@thenorthernview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

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

Just Posted

Rose Sawka, 91, reaches out to her son Terry Sawka, on a daily visit through the window, from inside Acropolis Manor where a COVID-19 outbreak took hold on Jan 19. Rose was vaccinated for the virus on Jan. 20 and as of Feb. 25 has remained virus free. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
No increases of COVID-19 at Acropolis -16 residents now recovered

Vaccinations have helped to stabilize Prince Rupert long-term care facility virus numbers

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Coastal GasLink begins COVID screening of pipeline workers

Construction is once again ramping up following Northern Health approval of COVID management plan

BC Bus North was implemented under the NDP provincial government in 2018 when Greyhound cancelled services across northern BC. The transportation funding expires at the end of March 2021. (Photo: B.C. Transit)
BC Liberals call for immediate govt. renewal of BC Bus North funding

BC Liberals spent years ignoring need for better transportation in the North - Jennifer Rice, MLA

Prince Rupert Tourism is benefitting from funding for new welcome and wayfinding signage from the COVID-19 Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program. McClymont Park on the gateway into Prince Rupert is one of the first things tourists see entering the city by road. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
$695,000 Community Economic Recovery funds to benefit local organizations

Prince Rupert Tourism and Gitga’at Development Corporation to receive COVID-19 recovery funds

Wainwright Marine Services Ltd.’s “Ingenika” tugboat went missing in the Garner Canal area south and east of Kitimat on Feb. 11, resulting in two deaths and the rescue of a third man. (Wainwright Marine Photo)
Tug union demands Transport Canada protect workers along B.C. coast and rivers

ILWU makes safety demands following the deaths of two men and the rescue of a third

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
Jasmine and Gwen Donaldson are part of the CAT team working to reduce stigma for marginalized groups in Campbell River. Photo by Marc Kitteringham, Campbell River Mirror
Jasmine’s story: Stigma can be the hardest hurdle for those overcoming addiction

Recovering B.C. addict says welcome, connection and community key for rebuilding after drug habit

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Most Read