Undersea expedition reveals elusive corals deep in Hecate Strait

  • Jul. 13, 2009 7:00 p.m.

By Heather Ramsay-It was a great journey to the bottom of the sea, says Living Oceans executive director Jennifer Lash, of a forest full of corals found recently in Juan Perez Sound. A team of international divers spent time during the month of June recording and mapping areas with deep sea corals in Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Basin. According to Ms Lash, these diverse areas are important to many marine animals and the ecosystem, but little is known about them in BC. After years of planning and fundraising, the expedition, complete with two mini-submarines and a former US Navy vessel, got underway in early June. The plan was to look at some of the few areas already protected from trawling, but also to dive at places where bottom trawlers frequent. Ms Lash says they didn’t intend to dive in Gwaii Haanas, but rough weather in the strait led them into Juan Perez Sound where they ducked in by Ramsay Island. On June 17 they found their first coral forest. “It was sensational. It was a great journey to the bottom of the sea,” she said of the 1,000-foot dive undertaken by two members of the research team. They found a grove of brilliant red Primnoa corals over a metre tall and two metres wide. They let the Council of the Haida Nation know they were in the area and Haida Fisheries Guardian Robert Russ was able to come aboard and even dive to the bottom in one of the small submersibles. Ms Lash said it was an amazing experience for Mr. Russ because he could go so much deeper than with scuba gear, something all team members appreciated about the trip. The team’s first dive was at South Moresby Gully. The Living Ocean’s website states that between 1996 and 2002, when that area was open to trawling, fishermen caught 832 kilos of stony corals, 623 kilos of Gorgonian corals, 285 kilos of sponges, and 134 kilos of soft corals. Other bycatch included 2.5 tonnes of Stellar sea lions. Also caught were 11,900 tonnes of Pacific ocean perch, 4.5 tonnes of arrowtooth flounder and 2.5 tonnes of yellowmouth rockfish. The expedition later went to Dixon Entrance and found more pink coral forests swaying in the ocean. Ms Lash says the data collected during their 14-day expedition will be used in many different ways and shared with agencies like the CHN and Gwaii Haanas Haida Heritage Site and National Park Reserve.