Draft regulations too weak to save glass sponge reefs

  • Jul. 17, 2015 4:00 p.m.

By Stacey MarpleHaida Gwaii ObserverAn environmental group says regulations set up by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to govern a proposed Marine Protected Area (MPA) over glass sponge reefs in the Hecate Strait are too weak to be effective. The extremely fragile reef is the only of its kind in the world and is thought to be nearly 9,000 years old. The protection of this area directly coincides with a Government of Canada initiative to strengthen marine and coastal conservation, as outlined under the National Conservation Plan. Launched in 2014, the plan included dedicated funding of $37 million over five years for marine coastal conservation. In a press release Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Gail Shea said the Ottawa’s new step towards the designation of the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs as a Marine Protected Area is evidence of the Conservative government’s “commitment to protect the unique features of our oceans for future generations.” However, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) says that draft regulations released June 26 will not do enough to save reefs. “The permitted activities under the draft regulations present an unacceptable risk. The proposed MPA covers a small area, and the sponge reefs are globally unique, very fragile and extremely important. A huge proportion of the ocean will still remain open for fishing if this MPA is completely closed,” says Sabine Jessen, CPAWS’ ocean program director. CPAWS has been working for over 15 years to get the reefs protected and is recommending that bottom trolling or other types of fishing should not be allowed within 200 metres of the reef because the risk of raising sediment could choke the sponges to death. “If we want a healthy fishing industry in our province, we need to take precautionary measures to protect important sea nurseries such as the glass sponge reef,” Ms. Jessen said in a press release.  Sponge reefs were thought to be extinct until their discovery in the late 1980’s. The Geological Survey of Canada discovered four major reef complexes of glass sponge reefs in Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte sound. The reefs serve as a modern link to reefs that were common during the Jurassic era. Reefs the size of the ones found in Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound have not been found elsewhere in the world, which environmental groups feel is evidence of their global importance for protection.

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