New website brings glass sponge reefs to the surface


Vancouver, BC – June 8, 2016 – On this World Oceans Day, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) is pleased to announce the launch of its Sea of Glass website, the latest component in a campaign to protect BC’s ancient and unique glass sponge reefs.

“We have been working for over 15 years to get the glass sponge reefs protected,” says Sabine Jessen, CPAWS’ National Oceans Director. “We think that these important, rare and fragile ecosystems deserve to be fully protected from all harmful activities, and designated as Marine Protected Areas.”

The visually engaging website has been developed to promote widespread public awareness of these rare and amazing treasures, and encourage people to take action to protect them.  “The new website is an important tool to educate Canadians about why these reefs are so important and so worth protecting” says Alexandra Barron, CPAWS-BC’s Ocean Conservation Manager.

Prior to being discovered in 1987 by Canadian scientists during seafloor mapping, glass sponge reefs were thought to have gone extinct some 40 million years ago. The silica skeletons of the sponges are extremely fragile and vulnerable to damage from fishing gear. Scientists estimate that 50% of the reefs were destroyed by harmful bottom fishing methods before the reefs were discovered. Today, they cover a combined area of about 1,000 km2, and provide essential habitat for a number of deep-sea species, and serve as a nursery for many commercially important species including rockfish, prawns and crabs.

Last June, the previous government released the draft regulations for the proposed Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound glass sponge reef MPA for public comment. The draft regulations allow for harmful fishing activities, anchoring and cable laying to continue around the reefs. In addition to accidental damage, bottom fishing gear, anchors and cables can kick up sediment plumes which can choke the sponges and stop them from feeding, leading to starvation. “Allowing these activities to continue poses an unacceptable risk to the reefs,” says Jessen, “if we want a healthy fishing industry then we need to take precautionary measures to fully protect important ecosystems like the reefs.”

“The Hecate Strait reefs are not the only ones in need of protection,” Jessen is quick to add, “We need to also protect the 12-kilometre long reef that was recently discovered in Chatham Sound near Prince Rupert, as well as the other reefs in Howe Sound.”

The Hecate Strait MPA will make an important contribution to the government’s commitment to protect 5% of our oceans by 2017, and 10% by 2020. “We do need more marine protected areas and we need them quickly,” says Jessen, “but we also need to make sure that they are strong MPAs, that provide real and meaningful protection for important ocean ecosystems and species.”

Visit www.glassspongereefs.com

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For more information, contact:

Sabine Jessen,
National Director, Oceans Program, CPAWS
sabine@cpawsbc.org or 604-657-2813 

Alexandra Barron
Ocean Conservation Manager, CPAWS-BC
alexandra@cpawsbc.org or 604-685-7445 ext. 32