Halkett Bay sponge reef, not protected as part of the MPA, (Adam Taylor, Nature Vancouver) (Byers, 2018)

For almost 9000 years, glass sponge reefs have existed in iceberg-dug ocean furrows off the coast of British Columbia in the Strait of Georgia, providing habitat and nursery ground for many invertebrate and fish faunas to flourish. The reefs were originally discovered in 1987, with additional sponge species discovered in 2001, which were considered the only known living fossil of ancient glass sponge reefs that lived during the Jurassic era (Fisheries And Oceans Canada, 2018b; Krautter, Conway, Barrie, & Neuweiler, 2001). Two unique species of sponges can be found in Strait of Georgia, the cloud sponge (Aphrocallistes vastus) and the vase sponge (Heterochone calyx), both of which were damaged from decades of seafloor trawling (Conway, Barrie, Austin, & Luternauer, 1991; Fisheries And Oceans Canada, 2018a). Fast-forward 16 years, and it finally happened; their sensitive habitat was declared a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in February of 2017 (Fisheries And Oceans Canada, 2018b).

Glass sponge silica exoskeleton towers. (Neil McDaniel, CBC) (McDaniel, 2017)

These glass sponges are one of the most remarkable filter feeders of the deep ocean, filtering “more than 800 times their body volume each hour” (Fisheries And Oceans Canada, 2018a). In addition to their slow growth (1-2 cm/year), few areas in the west coast of Canada and United States are the only places in the world where these glass sponge reefs can be found (Fisheries And Oceans Canada, 2018a), making them exceptionally rare.

Glass sponge reefs provide a home to many fish and invertebrate species, (DFO) (Fisheries And Oceans Canada, 2017b)

The established MPA was one of the last contributions of Canada in finally reaching its 5% Marine Conservation Target (Fisheries And Oceans Canada, 2017a); yes I know it’s small, but at least we’ve saved 5%. It was a stepwise approach that started with closing the area to trawl fishing in 2002 (Fisheries And Oceans Canada, 2018b). Then in 2010 Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), under it’s Science at-Sea program, conducted their own investigation and published a report to identify conservation strategies for the cold-water coral and sponges (Fisheries And Oceans Canada, 2010). The report was the first of it’s kind for these animals and eventually paved the way for protection and later establishment of the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs MPA.

Hecate Strait / Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs MPA, (DFO) (Fisheries And Oceans Canada, 2018b)


Each zone has three layers of protection, a Core Protection Zone, a Vertical Adaptive Management Zone, and an Adaptive Management Zone. Any kind of anchoring, cable installation, fishing, maintenance and repair are prohibited in the Core Protection Zone, (DFO) (Fisheries And Oceans Canada, 2018b)

This protected area is comprised of three areas covering 4 specific reefs. Each area is protected using three layers of zoning that define acceptable activities. Applying these protective layers helps preserve the biological diversity, structural habitat, and ecosystem function of these exceptional glass sponge reefs. It will also help with managing human activities in the area and continuing research to better understand the glass sponges and the reefs they have formed. Other similar reefs like the Chatham Sound reefs or the Halkett Bay reefs have also been discovered but not yet recognized as part of a MPA (Fisheries And Oceans Canada, 2017b, 2019). As pressures from human activities increase, it is important to increase our efforts towards recognition and protection of these ecosystems for future generations.

Notwithstanding the scars they’ve endured from years of damage and abuse from us, if left alone, they can heel and flourish again.


Twitter Tag: #OceanConsvnUBC


Byers, S. (2018). The Deep Sea Cities of Glass. Discovery, 46, 30–46. Retrieved from

Conway, K. W., Barrie, J. V., Austin, W. C., & Luternauer, J. L. (1991). Holocene sponge bioherms on the western Canadian continental shelf. Continental Shelf Research, 11(8–10), 771–790.

Fisheries And Oceans Canada. (2010). Pacific Region Coral and Sponge Conservation Strategy. Vancouver.

Fisheries And Oceans Canada. (2018). Hecate Strait / Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs MPA. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from

Fisheries And Oceans Canada. (2018). Frequently asked questions Glass Sponge Reefs in the Strait of Georgia. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from

Fisheries And Oceans Canada. (2017). Canada reaches 5% marine conservation target. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from

Fisheries And Oceans Canada. (2017). Chatham Sound Glass Sponge Reefs. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from

Fisheries And Oceans Canada. (2019). Strait of Georgia and Howe Sound Glass Sponge Reef Conservation Initiative. Retrieved February 12, 2019, from

Gazette, C. (2017). Canada Gazette, Part II: Official Regulations. Distribution (Vol. 151). Ottawa: Queen’s Printer for Canada. Retrieved from

Krautter, M., Conway, K. W., Barrie, J. V., & Neuweiler, M. (2001). Discovery of a “Living Dinosaur”: Globally unique modern hexactinellid sponge reefs off British Columbia, Canada. Facies, 44(1), 265–282.

McDaniel, N. (2017). Canada moves to save ‘Jurassic Park Submerged.’ Retrieved February 12, 2019, from

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