About Glass Sponge Reefs | The Crew and Vessels | Images from the Deep

About Glass Sponge Reefs

Sponge reefs were thought to have gone extinct millions of years ago, however the first known living sponge reefs were recently documented off the coast of British Columbia in 1991.

These reefs are UNIQUE to the coast of British Columbia and have not been documented anywhere else in the world!

These 9000 year old glass sponge reefs are found in deep water, beyond the depths a SCUBA diver can reach - up to 250 meters deep, and cover large areas - up to 300 Km2. Because they they are found only in deep water, research on these ecosystems must be done with the technology of submersible submarines and remotely operated vehicles (ROV's).

The reefs provide a complex three-dimensional habitat, providing shelter for many fish and invertebrate species, and create areas of rich biological diversity. These reefs are proving to be vital habitat for BC's juvenile rockfish, as well as many invertebrates like crab, shrimp, and sea cucumbers.

Large scale sponge reefs have been found along the continental shelf off the west coast of Canada, in Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound, at depths between 165 and 240 meters.

In 2001, sponge reefs were located in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver Island and the mainland of British Columbia.

These reefs are under serious threat from bottom trawling, cable laying and gravel extraction. This is especially alarming, because the sponges are slow growing, fragile and immobile. Despite a voluntary shrimp trawl fishery closure, Canadian and German scientists found recent damage to areas of the Hecate Strait reefs most likely caused by trawling gear. Already 50% of the sponge reefs in Hecate Strait have already been destroyed, and scientists say it will take thousands of years for the reefs to recover, if ever.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is currently monitoring the effectiveness of fishery closure and working to assess whether these reef areas should be designated as a Marine Protected Area.

In October 2007, an international crew of scientists, members of Dr. Sally Leys' lab, as well as national and international scientists, members of the ROPOS crew, and the Captain and crew of the CCGS Vector carried out a week-long scientific expedition to survey, map and perform in situ experimentation of the glass sponge reefs in the Straight of Georgia.

Click here for more images and current research about sponge reefs.


OceanLink's Porifera page

Sponge Gardens

The Sponge Reef Project

Geological Survey of Canada Sponge Reefs on the continental shelf

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society of BC

banner photos courtesy of Jackson Chu and Sally Leys

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