Ocean Networks Canada (ONC) applauds the Government of Canada’s recent announcements to protect the Pacific coast. During a February visit to Vancouver, the Honourable Dominic Leblanc, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and Canadian Coast Guard (DFO) announced a suite of initiatives to ensure that our Pacific coast remains healthy, prosperous and safe for generations.
Protecting sensitive marine areas
On Thursday 16 February, Minister Leblanc announced the establishment of the new Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area (Figure 1), designed to protect large colonies of unique glass sponges estimated to be 9000 years old. The reefs provide refuge, habitat and nursing grounds for many aquatic species such as rockfish, finfish and shellfish. The designation of this marine protected area (Figure 2) is a step forward in Canada’s plan to protecting 5% of its marine and coastal areas by 2017 and 10% by 2020.
Previously believed to be extinct, the glass sponge reefs were discovered during a seafloor mapping expedition in 1987. “I have had the opportunity to study the reefs' biology and eco-physiology,” says University of Alberta biologist Dr. Sally Leys (Figure 3). “They are stunning—an oasis of cream and yellow tubes, like giant organ pipes.”
“The glass sponges are unique to the Pacific waters because of a special combination of geological and oceanographic features to which they are specially adapted,” continues Dr. Leys. “The sponges needed rock rubble to attach to initially—the reefs are on the edge of iceberg scours that were formed as glaciers retreated roughly ten thousand years ago (Figure 4). They need high silica levels and cold waters, both typical of the Pacific coast deep water. And most importantly they need constant water flow, which brings in new food. Unlike corals, sponges process vast amounts of water by active filtration. Their removal of bacteria and excretion of ammonia and carbon is a huge contribution to the recycling of nutrients in the ocean. So, the reefs play a huge ecosystem function.”
Managing Pacific north coast activities
During his west coast visit, Minister Leblanc also signed, the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) Plan, a stewardship plan in collaboration with the Province of British Columbia and coastal First Nations (Figure 5). This co-managed plan will help protect the health of the north Pacific coast by setting out a framework to manage the marine activities and resources, with a goal of ensuring that healthy functioning ecosystems and coastal communities are maintained in this significant and unique marine area of Canada (Figure 6).
PNCIMA is the result of almost a decade of consultation and research. In 2008, Federal, provincial and indigenous partners came together through a collaborative governance arrangement to examine what could be done to collectively improve management of Pacific north coast activities. “We believe the PNCIMA agreement is a positive step towards reconciliation. It ensures strategic, forward planning for managing and protecting our waters,” says Chief Marilyn Slett, President of Coastal First Nations.
Protecting marine mammals
The government is also taking action to better understand and address the cumulative effects of shipping on marine mammals. While speaking to stakeholders at the Vancouver Aquarium, Minister Leblanc announced that DFO will work with a coalition of partners to further develop underwater acoustic monitoring technology and systems to enhance our knowledge on the impacts of noise on marine mammals.
This commitment from Minister Leblanc will build on the existing Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) program, which monitors and reports on ambient noise levels, marine mammal detections, and passing vessel noise in the Strait of Georgia. ONC has played a key role, along with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority and JASCO Applied Sciences. In September 2015, ONC deployed the underwater listening station in a busy Strait of Georgia shipping lane (Figure 7), and continues to manage and maintain the underwater cable infrastructure, data storage and data reporting.
Howe Sound Report
During his visit to the Vancouver Aquarium, Minister Leblanc also attended the Coastal Ocean Research Institute’s inaugural report on coastal ocean health in British Columbia (Figure 8). Ocean Watch: Howe Sound Edition is designed to inspire better use, management and stewardship decisions for nature and people, providing crucial information to guide decisions as the area grows and changes.
“This is just the beginning. This is the future of Howe Sound and health of our oceans,” comments Dr. Andrew Day, Executive Director of Vancouver Aquarium’s Coastal Ocean Research Institute. "The report is full of interesting and useful knowledge from all different sources. It's a great read that will make you want to join in protecting and recovering one of BC's jewels."