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Canada releases first strategy to protect ocean corals and sponges

Pacific coast provides a model for Atlantic and Arctic

Vancouver – Today, in honour of International Oceans Day, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Keith Ashfield publicly released the Pacific Region Cold-water Coral and Sponge Conservation Strategy aimed at identifying, studying and managing these sea floor creatures – a conservation endeavour initiated by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society in 2006 that engaged the fishing industry, federal and provincial agencies and the conservation community.

This strategy is a key component of meeting Canada’s international commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity and United Nations General Assembly resolutions calling for the protection of “vulnerable marine ecosystems” or VMEs from bottom fisheries.

“This Pacific strategy has national implications. The expectation is that similar strategies will follow for Canada’s Atlantic and Arctic oceans,” says Sabine Jessen, CPAWS national oceans manager. “The strategy is also a federal recognition of the fragile and important role that corals and sponges play in Canada’s ocean ecosystems.”

The bodies of these creatures provide nooks and crannies for countless other sea creatures, especially when they join together to create “communities” or reefs. Protecting corals and sponges means protecting the homes and hiding places of countless other species, like rockfish.

Research into Canada’s corals and sponges is in its infancy. The new Pacific conservation strategy provides for mapping of corals and sponges on the sea floor – intelligence desperately needed to avoid harm to these fragile creatures by fishing and other activities. Although Pacific sponges are reasonably well documented, the locations of Canada’s corals remain very much a mystery.

“We hope the government will continue to follow up on previous work funded by CPAWS to develop a coral prediction model for the Pacific coast that could help direct our search efforts for these vulnerable creatures,” says Jessen.

CPAWS will also press the government to introduce toothy regulations to protect Canada’s newly-mapped populations of corals and sponges, and conduct more basic research into how coral and sponges grow, reproduce, and are affected by ocean activities.

“Canada needs to protect ocean ecosystems period. Corals and sponges are important species in many stretches of the sea. This strategy announced today is encouraging,” says Jessen. “It’s another step in the very long battle to save Canada’s seas.”

CPAWS also continues to call on the government to create its long-promised network of marine protected areas on every coast. Canada has committed to this MPA network multiple times on the international stage since 1992. MPA networks will go a long way to safeguarding Canada’s seas.

Read more at Fisheries and Oceans Canada