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Protecting Jurassic Period Glass Sponge Reefs: another step towards Canada's marine conservation target

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA -- (Marketwired) -- 02/16/17 -- The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, P.C., Q.C., M.P., Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, announced the establishment of the new Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area to safeguard the globally unique and important aquatic environment that provides key habitats for marine wildlife.

The Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area is located between Haida Gwaii and the mainland of British Columbia, within the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA), and is home to several globally unique ancient sponge reefs. The four reefs are made up of large colonies of glass sponges estimated to be 9,000 years old and once thought to be extinct worldwide. The glass sponges are highly fragile in nature, taking up to several hundreds of years to recover from damage, and are at risk of significant impacts from human activities in and around the area. They also offer a vital water filtration service, and provide refuge, habitat and nursery grounds for many aquatic species, including rockfish, finfish and shellfish.

Minister LeBlanc was joined by Kim Conway from Natural Resources Canada and Manfred Krautter from the University of Stuttgart, two of the scientists who participated in the exploration of the reefs while mapping the seafloor. Also present were the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), the B.C. Seafood Alliance and other stakeholders who have been working together to preserve this unique ocean feature.

This is another step forward for the Government of Canada's domestic and international marine conservation targets of protecting 5% of marine and coastal areas by 2017 and 10% by 2020. In November 2016 the new Anguniaqvia niqiqyuam Marine Protected Area was designated in Darnley Bay in the Northwest Territories, and in December 2016, the government proposed the designation of St. Anns Bank as a Marine Protected Area.

As part of Canada's plan to reach its targets, the Government of Canada will continue to establish Marine Protected Areas in both offshore areas and areas currently under pressure from human activities, as well as identify existing and new other area-based measures that play an important role in conserving our oceans. The Government of Canada is also exploring ways to update the Oceans Act to facilitate the designation process for Marine Protected Areas, without sacrificing science, or the opportunity for stakeholders, Indigenous people and the public to provide input.

Quotes

"These ancient reefs highlight the importance of preserving the globally unique and ecologically important treasure in our Canadian oceans. The Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area is a great example of what can be accomplished when all interested parties work together towards effective ocean management and marine conservation."

The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, P.C., Q.C., M.P., Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

"For over 16 years, Canadians have been captivated by the story of the "sea of glass" found in the depths of the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of British Columbia. These ancient glass sponge reefs, found nowhere else in the world, were a surprise discovery during seafloor mapping in 1987, and provide a link to the Jurassic era when dinosaurs roamed the earth. CPAWS is very pleased to see Canada's glass sponge reefs now finally protected through a Marine Protected Area under Canada's Oceans Act. The glass sponge reefs provide habitat for many ecologically and commercially important species like spot prawns and rockfish. They are also extremely fragile and require the most stringent protection. We are very pleased to see the Government of Canada fulfill its international obligation to protect these globally unique reefs so that they remain a source of wonder for generations to come."

Sabine Jessen, Oceans Program Director - Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

"B.C. fishermen have protected these ancient reefs through voluntary and mandatory measures since 2000 so we are fully supportive of their designation today as an MPA under the Oceans Act. We are always committed to conservation and good management."

Christina Burridge, Executive Director, B.C. Seafood Alliance.

Quick Facts


--  The Hecate Strait / Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine
    Protected Area was designated with the participation of Indigenous
    peoples, Federal and Provincial government agencies, industry and
    conservation organizations.
--  It is comprised of three distinct zones offering varying levels of
    protection with the most stringent protection measure applied to areas
    that need it most.
--  The zones are designed to accommodate certain activities that are
    compatible with the conservation objectives of the MPA, creating a
    healthy coexistence between fully functioning aquatic systems and human
    communities.

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Backgrounder: Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area

Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) Plan officially endorsed by all planning partners

Associated Link

Hecate Strait / Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area

Internet: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Follow us on Twitter! www.Twitter.com/DFO_MPO

Backgrounder

Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area

Fisheries and Oceans Canada designated Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs as the newest Marine Protected Area (MPA), as part of the Government of Canada's commitment to creating a national network of MPAs under the Oceans Act and reaching its domestic and international marine conservation targets.

This new MPA represents 2,410 km2 of protected aquatic territory along the Pacific North Coast, southeast of Haida Gwaii, between the northern and southern entrance to the Douglas Channel. The area is nationally and internationally recognized as an important and exceptional marine habitat as the reefs are made up of large colonies of glass sponges that are estimated to be 9,000 years old. The sponge reefs provide an essential water filtration service as well as refuge, habitat and nursery grounds for aquatic species, including commercially important rockfish, finfish and shellfish species.

The regulations that govern this MPA provide for the conservation and protection of the biological diversity, structural habitat and ecosystem function of the glass sponge reefs through the management of human activities. The regulations prohibit any activity that disturbs, damages, or destroys living marine organisms or habitat within the area, with the exception of some activities that do not compromise the MPA conservation objectives, such as some marine scientific research or safety and security measures.

The MPA is comprised of three spatially distinct components to encompass the northern reef, the two central reefs, and the southern reef. The regulations apply a zoned approach that offers varying levels of protection to the MPA and provides core protection to the sponge reefs.

Process to Become an MPA

Consultations to consider the reefs as an Area of Interest (AOI) were initiated in January 2009. These consultations took place over several months and included presentations to multi-stakeholder groups and meetings with key stakeholders, First Nations and governments.

In June 2010, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans officially identified the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs as an AOI for possible MPA designation within the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA). Protection of the glass sponge reefs is also supported by the Pacific Region Cold-Water Coral and Sponge Conservation Strategy.

Following the AOI announcement, Fisheries and Oceans Canada undertook an analysis of the ecological, social, economic and cultural values in the area and an assessment of the pressures from human activities and their impact on the biological diversity, structural habitat and ecosystem function of the glass sponge reefs. The outcome of this analysis formed the basis of consultation with affected and interested stakeholders and partners and informed the development of the regulations.

In June 2015, the proposed MPA regulations were pre-published in Canada Gazette, Part I, launching the official 30-day public consultation period.

Commitment to Marine Protected Areas and Our Oceans

This new MPA demonstrates the Government of Canada's commitment to collaboration with local communities while increasing environmental protection of Canada's marine and coastal areas. Budget 2016 included $123.7 million over five years to support marine conservation activities. This includes the designation of new MPAs under the Oceans Act and developing new national parks and National Marine Conservation Areas.

Through this investment, the Government of Canada will work with partners to increase the amount of Canada's protected marine and coastal areas to 5% by 2017 and 10% by 2020. The Government is dedicated to continuing to work with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous peoples, industry, academia and environmental non-government organizations to meet its 2020 commitments.

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