Waters surrounding Haida Gwaii very important, says scientis

  • Aug. 3, 2005 9:00 a.m.

The waters around the islands are very special, and deserve to be protected, a well-respected marine biologist told a group of islanders last week in Skidegate.
Dr. Elliott Norse of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute along with two other American biologists was visiting the islands last week. He told islanders the waters around Haida Gwaii are among the most important to protect in the world.
“There are few opportunities in the world to protect. This is one of the very few places where you could,” Dr. Norse said, noting the waters here number among twenty-eight areas recently identified as being globally significant. He said Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is another, and all are among “the very, very best in the world”.
Hecate Strait is the home of a unique coral sponge community, and they may be in jeopardy from the trawl fishery unless they are protected. “These glass sponges have existed almost since the dawn of life. We are about to lose them in my lifetime,” Dr. Norse said.
The glass sponge reefs are very slow-growing and take time, a lot of time to recover, he said.
The waters around the islands are more valuable for their biodiversity than for their fishery or petroleum values, adding that it’s too late to save most of the seas’ great places.
Dr. Norse also spoke about the damage done to the marine environment by the trawl fishery. “Bottom trawling is by far the most damaging, the most destructive of all (fishing) methods” he said.
“If you can imagine a shop full of glass, then having a steam roller go through, that’s what trawling does to the sea floor,” he said.
He likened trawling to clear-cutting on land and noted that about 100,000 square kilometres of forest is clear-cut each year, while 15-million square kilometres of ocean bed is trawled. “We don’t (all) know about this because it is hidden under the sea,” he said. “Trawling is vastly more impactful to the world’s oceans as clear cutting is on land,” he said.
Dr. Norse also offered a plea for marine protected areas, especially with zoned protection. “You have a special responsibility and a special opportunity to do it right,” he said, “zoning would allow the people of Haida Gwaii to get the right mix.” He also said this place still has a chance.
Two other members of the committee made presentations. Glenn VanBlaricom of the University of Washington spoke about some research he is involved in on whale migration. A major breakthrough recently, he said, is satellite tracking of whales, yielding interesting new facts about their habits that can inform protection policy. And John Cigliano of Cedar Crest College in Pennsylvania talked about his work in the tropics, where in some cases a variety of factors including over fishing, changing weather and major storms, have resulted in a major shift in the undersea population, replacing coral reefs for example with algae reefs and reducing fish biomass as much as 80-percent.
The three American scientists and islander Dr. Norman Sloan are directors of the marine section of the U.S.-based Society for Conservation Biology.