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

Comments are closed

Just Posted

Police investigate July 2 homicide in Houston

Man succumbed to injuries at Pearson Road residence

Solidarity movement displayed in city

Prince Rupert locals demonstrated against

Canada Day investigation by RCMP

Female was transported to hospital with head injuries in Prince Rupert

Local restaurant, Fukasaku, awarded $10,000 grant

More than 1100 Canadian business applied for the relief grant

QUIZ: Put your knowledge of Canada to the test

How much do you know about our country?

UPDATE: Military reservist facing 22 charges after allegedly ramming gates at Rideau Hall

The man, who police have not yet officially identified, will be charged with multiple offences

Alberta health minister orders review into response after noose found in hospital in 2016

A piece of rope tied into a noose was found taped to the door of an operating room at the Grande Prairie Hospital in 2016

B.C.’s major rivers surge, sparking flood warnings

A persistent low pressure system over Alberta has led to several days of heavy rain

B.C.’s Indigenous rights law faces 2020 implementation deadline

Pipeline projects carry on as B.C. works on UN goals

‘Mind boggling’: B.C. man $1 million richer after winning Lotto 6/49 a second time

David O’Brien hopes to use his winnings to travel and of course keep playing the lottery

Community infrastructure funding announced for 24 Northern B.C. projects

Recipients include municipalities, First Nations and not-for-profits

White-throated sparrows have changed their tune, B.C. study unveils

Study marks an unprecedented development scientists say has caused them to sit up and take note

B.C. teacher loses licence after sexual relationships with two recently-graduated students

The teacher won’t be allowed to apply for a teaching certificate until 2035

Lower Mainland teacher facing child pornography charges

Elazar Reshef, 52, has worked in the Delta School District

Most Read