Do You Know About B.C.'s Rare Sea Glass Reefs?

One of the many interesting animals that live in the deepest of oceans are glass sea sponges. These are delicate creatures that consume small bacteria and plankton that they filter from the surrounding water, returning valuable nutrients. Glass sea sponges are a critical part of the marine ecosystem as they act as a filtration system for the sea – and they are under threat.

Fishing activity is choking these glass sea sponges along B.C.’s northern coast, according to researchers. The story was in many of today’s newspapers. The culprits include bottom trawling where a weighted net is dragged across the sea floor, scooping up everything in its path. The sediment caused by this disruption of the ocean floor is choking the sea glass creatures. This also include salmon farms.

The research was published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series and includes the work of several biologists, including those at the University of Alberta. They studied three species of glass sponges found at depths from 30 to 200 meters in the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound.

The sponges provide habitat for many commercially important fish and invertebrates such as Pacific halibut, rockfish and spot prawn.

Aside from risking killing an entire ecosystem, this news is also devastating as B.C.’s sponge reefs are one of a kind. It was thought that glass sponge reefs were extinct, gone some 40 million years ago. They’ve left behind giant fossil cliffs that stretch across parts of Spain, Germany, France, and Romania. But a team of Canadian scientists discovered a 9,000-year-old living glass sponge reef on British Columbia’s northern coast in 1987!

Scientists say this discovery of glass sponge reefs “is like finding a herd of dinosaurs roaming on land.”

To continue this analogy, we just sold the land to developers to build a mall.

SeaLuxe did some further investigation and discovered that one of our glass sponge reefs (the ones in the Hecate Strait) became fully protected on February 16th, 2017 in the form of a Marine Protected Area. This was announced by the Minister of Fisheries and the Canadian Coast Guard.

However, are other reefs are unprotected. According to the Tyee, an environmentalist by the name of Tavish Campbell captured video footage showing two previously undocumented glass sponge reefs in the Broughton Archipelago, located between Mainland B.C. and the northern end of Vancouver Island. One reef was healthy and living, according to the Tyee, while the other one situated beneath a salmon farm appeared dead and smothered in waste. Read this excellent article here.

“The damage we do [to the glass sponges] is criminal,” said Jeff Marliave, a senior research scientist for the Vancouver Aquarium, speaking about 50 years of trawling that utterly destroyed large stretches of glass sponge reefs in the Strait of Georgia.