Maritime Museum Lecture: The Sponge Reefs of British Columbia – a Deep Water Jurassic Park
Massive and spectacular glass sponge reefs have grown over the past 9,000 years in the deeper waters of the British Columbia continental shelf. The reefs are up to 25 m in height and cover hundreds of square kilometres of the seafloor. Like coral reefs, the sponge reefs develop by one sponge growing upon the skeleton of another, and similar to coral reefs, they form important habitat for many species of fish and invertebrates.
The reefs are most closely related to extinct sponge reefs that once covered much of southern Europe during the Age of Dinosaurs. To some extent they occupy a similar place in the environment, or the same ecologic niche, that they did during the Jurassic Period, which was their time of greatest abundance. For this reason they are considered to be a kind of “Living Fossil”.
Unfortunately many of the reefs have been badly damaged or destroyed by fishing activities, including trawling, over the past 60 years. However, efforts to protect the reef systems are ongoing, with the goal of enclosing the main reef areas in a designated Marine Protected Area.
This talk will describe how and where the reefs have formed, some of the interesting ecological and geological controls on sponge reef development, and also take a quick look at their ancient reef ancestors that once thrived across much of southern Europe.
Kim Conway is a marine scientist who works for the Geological Survey of Canada in marine geology at the Institute of Ocean Sciences at Sidney, BC. He has, with colleagues, mapped much of the seafloor of offshore western Canada and studied many seabed phenomenon including active tectonic faults and other geological hazards to people living in BC.
His studies have also included describing sealevel changes in the recent past, and he has surveyed the seafloor for other purposes, including discovering and mapping the unique and massive sponge reefs found in the deeper waters of the BC continental shelf. He has published many scientific papers on these and other topics. In his spare time he is an avid scuba diver, and has recently returned from a trip to the Red Sea in Egypt.