It's only been a few years since scientists in B.C. rediscovered ancient glass sponge reefs once thought to be extinct, but the same scientists are now warning the creatures are at risk of destruction from fishing operations. Photo: Neil McDaniel

By Michael Mui   
15 October 2013

(Toronto Sun) – A recently discovered B.C. colony of glass sponges — described as a marine “herd of dinosaurs” due to their supposed extinction 30 million years ago — is now at risk of destruction by fisheries.

That’s unless protective bans are implemented in an area of Howe Sound — as similar bans were put in place for B.C.’s Hecate Strait in the north after scientists realized the sponges that were first discovered near Haida Gwaii in the 1980s weren’t fossilized.

They were actually alive and teeming with small marine life squirming in and out of the 1,000 kilometre-squared reefs for protection from predators.

The glass reefs later discovered off the coast of the Lower Mainland are much smaller, said Sabine Jessen of Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society B.C., and scientists have yet to determine the extent of damage from trawling vessels currently frequenting the area.

“The sponges here in the Strait of Georgia were discovered in 2001 … we’ve been trying to get fishing closures on them for the last few years,” she said.

“We’re hoping for next year’s fishing plans that there will be fishing closures for the sponge reefs and in the future we would like to see Marine Protected Areas as part of a whole network (of MPAs) along the coast.”

Paleobiology researcher Manfred Krautter has been travelling each year to B.C. from his university job in Germany to study the creatures — found nowhere else in the world — that he relates to as hidden colonies of cretaceous beasts.

“It was for me like discovering a herd of dinosaurs on land somewhere,” he said.

No one knows exactly why the sponges died in many other areas, Krautter said, but B.C.’s granite mountains pump a rich amount of silicon — hence the term “glass” sponge — into the water that our reefs use as building blocks.

In addition, silt rolling down rivers and streams to our seawaters normally can’t reach the sponges due to natural soil barriers that remove large particles from reaching the sponges’ filters. [more]

Scientists call to protect B.C.'s 9,000-year-old sponge reefs

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