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Diving Deeper into the Glass Sponge Reefs of Howe Sound, BC

July 10 2017

The waters off the coast of British Columbia are home to the glass sponge reefs which are one of the few living fossils on earth. There are sixteen glass sponge reefs discovered to-date in Howe Sound. Glass sponges are made up of siliceous spicules and although they have a relatively simple body plan, they form complex ecosystems that are important for many organisms and serve as nursing grounds for rockfishes. Glass sponge reefs are fragile, slow growing organisms and are therefore vulnerable to impact damage caused fishing practices such as bottom contact fishing gear.

Our mission is to raise awareness about these important ecosystems and contribute to the existing knowledge of glass sponge reefs. The Trident Underwater Drone will allow us to collect data on the sponge reefs without being limited by bottom time. We have three main goals for this project: 1) ground truth existing maps of the sponge reefs (boundaries/sponge coverage); 2) improve the resolution of the existing maps; 3) perform standardized surveys on the reefs to get baseline biodiversity measurements. In combination, this information will serve as a tool that can be shared with policy makers. The data will be made available in a format that can be easily visualized, understood and used as a reference. It is important to better understand the distribution of these sponges so as to increase protection for all the fragile glass sponge ecosystems in Howe Sound, British Columbia.

July 10 2017


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Expedition Background

This expedition will build on existing work done by Glen Dennison on the glass sponge reefs. Glen is an ocean explorer and citizen scientist and he has personally discovered ten of the known sponge reefs in Howe Sound. He has done this through both air-gas diving, and the use of a low-cost drop-camera system. Over the years, Glen has mapped many sites in Howe Sound and has collected hours of drop-camera footage on the sponge reefs. The bathymetric data, in combination with the drop-camera footage can be used to visualize the boundaries of the glass sponge reefs; as well as map relative sponge coverage throughout the reef.

Recently, a group of students at Fleming College worked in collaboration with Glen to create a bathymetric map and relative density surface of the East Anvil Island glass sponge reef. This was done by extracting still images from drop-camera video data and classifying the geo-referenced images.

The goal of this project is to build upon existing work and contribute to existing datasets. We will produce higher resolution maps of the glass sponge reefs using the ROV in combination with the plethora of data already collected by Glen.


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