Jurassic Sponge Conservation

June 26 2017

Ancient Reefs Rediscovered Just in time to save them
British Columbia is home to one of the most fascinating and ethereal marine ecosystems on earth - Glass Sponge Gardens. Full of rockfish, octopus, anemones, cod, sharks, and unimaginable wildlife, they're literally being torn apart by fishing and prawn trapping. With our trusty submarine Stingray500 and a whole fleet of citizen divers and scientists we're out to survey and save a world underwater. The dream? Make the Salish Sea a UNESCO world heritage site, because everyone should get to see this bizarre and beautiful place.

June 26 2017

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Mission Underway

Hi team, I'm happy to join you in the Aphrocallistes garden in the deep! - Ruby

Preparation Stage

Welcome to Africa - Not the terrestrial Africa, but the Africa shaped sponge reef we discovered in Howe Sound.

We're heading out at one o'clock today to dive on the south west coast of our Africa shaped reef, think Madagascar.

Over the past few dives we've been outlining the borders of the reef and it has become clear the that reef is a lovely homage to Africa.

What do you think?!

Tracking the submarine from above with an acoustic transponder, the crew of Topside (our surface support boat) helps guide the submarine pilot (moi) between waypoints.

It has become standard operating procedure now to guide the pilot by telling her bearing and range to different countries on the african continent.

Last month was one of our first "cross continent" dives, here's our track!


On every dive I take down my own way point map, and a few nautical charts. I keep them in a flight notebook along with emergency procedures checklists, a pen, a red pointer laser, and a flashlight. Here's part of the pilot kit:


Erika can now cross "Surfing a Submarine" off the things shes done !

A little behind the scenes of a recent dive;

We follow all sorts of safety procedures while operating Stingray and while operating on the Ocean all sorts of things can happen at anytime at a moments notice (as any ocean going person should know), which leads us to this image...

A displacement hull power vessel, while encroaching into our operational space as designated by a surface support vessel displaying not 1, but 2 internationally recognized "Diver Down" Flags, was kind enough to provide significant wake to help keep us on our toes, or more specifically, Erika (as over dramatized in the picture).

Although Stingray is a stable, High Freeboard Platform, and inherently waterproof (its a prerequisite for a HOV submersible), when stepping onto the aft deck one needs to pay attention to the surroundings and only experienced crew members attending operation business will do so.

While some boaters give our team a wide berth and observe our dive flags, many (if not most) do not. We would ask that, if you are operating in any area where a vessel is displaying a diver down flag, to stay clear (150m minimum) and be considerate of the wake your vessel may be spreading and how it may impact others. You may never be aware or know what may be happening in the immediate area but by being courteous you might just help prevent injury or damage to the operation and its tools.

Please become familiar with the rules and regulations in your area so we can all stay and play safe !!


Location : Near the mouth of Howe Sound, Vancouver, British Columbia context : Returning from a scouting visit at 420 ft below sea level

Diver Down Flag Wikipedia Article : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diverdownflag

image-1 image-1

To Introduce Myself to the team, I am the Naval Architect and lead designer working behind the Aquatica Submarines 'Stingray 500', 3 Person Submersible.

It has been a great journey helping design this Sea Exploration Vehicle literally from the ground up and now, experiencing her in operation ! Working in a "Submarine Design Office" allows for a highly dynamic range of daily duties, either behind the desk, on the ocean, or below the Surface. I look forward to contributing to the expedition narrative and documentation.

Picture: Myself inside Stingray 500 while diving an Artificial Reef; Location HMCS Annapolis, Gambier Isl., Howe Sound, BC, Canada. Credit Diane Reid


The Stingray 500 is 3 person HOV (Human Occupied Vehicle) - It was built just this year and we've already put an extensive number of successful dives on it!

Here is how the sub was certified and tested.

This piece very quickly summarizes thousands of hours of work in engineering and fabrication leading up to the final assembly and testing! It was a very exciting day for the entire team and a pleasure to have had discovery along for the experience !

These crazy cats are submarine crew, Marine Life Sanctuary Society members, and Vancouver Aquarium researchers. In the coming posts they'll introduce themselves.

The shorty in the the red coat in the front is me. I'm Chief Pilot - though around the office i'm known as Pocket Pilot and in an unfortunate twist of fate, I now quickly respond to the name PP.

I like:

  • Long Dives in Submarines

  • The smell of low tide

  • My favorite sea creature is a whole smack of jellyfish. Yep, A Smack of Jellyfish


To survive these gorgeous sponge reefs need to be legally protected through 'Sponge Closures.'

Here are our three big steps we'll undertake right here on OpenExplorer:

1) Find the sponges - This is the challenge of submarine exploration

2) Map their boundaries - This is required for the legal step of protection

3) Inspire Policy Action by the DFO and the Squamish Nation to legally set them as "Sponge Closures"

Let's start with the good news. Canada's DFO (Department of Fisheries & Oceans) has made fantastic headway with rockfish conservation areas. This means no fishing in the indicated polygons. However prawn traps are still allowable. This means the fish are protected, but their habitat is not. This is not an sustainable conservation plan.

We then face the same issue every conservationist struggles with, how to enforce these legally preserved areas? As you'll see in the next few posts...closures are frustratingly difficult to enforce.

The existing sponge closures in Howe Sound are few and far between, let's change that!

Expedition Background

Thought to have disappeared millennia ago around the same extinction event that took the dinosaurs - glass sponges are the first animal life form on earth - and they're still here Glass sponges have recently been re-discovered in a few bays and sounds within the emerald green waters of the Salish Sea. As a submarine crew, we went out in search of these rare gardens along with our local guides and fellow conservation enthusiasts at the Marine Life Sanctuary Society to explore this ancient ecosystem and create a baseline survey of their condition for conservation.

Here's our press release!

Aquatica submersible routine dive discovers new glass sponge bioherm

We are scuba diving, submarine piloting, ROV deploying and more to capture this vibrant ecosystem to share it with the world. Come dive with us!


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