New MPA in Hecate Strait will protect sensitive ecosystem | WWF-Canada

New MPA in Hecate Strait will protect sensitive ecosystem

Posted on 16 February 2017   |  
Coastline near Haida Gwaii, British Columbia.
© Kevin McNamee / WWF-Canada
VANCOUVER, Feb. 16, 2017 – WWF-Canada applauds the federal government’s announcement to create a new marine protected area (MPA) in the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound, southeast of Haida Gwaii, B.C. The area is recognized internationally for its fragile, prehistoric glass sponge reefs, which provide a unique habitat to many marine animals. While MPA regulations protect the sponge reefs, fisheries closures create an essential 200-metre buffer zone to protect the reef from damage due to contact or sediment.  

The initial 2015 proposal for the MPA did not include the 200-metre bottom-contact prohibition. During the public comment period in 2015, WWF-Canada and other environmental organizations demanded stronger protections for the ancient reefs. As a result, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is supplementing Hecate Strait’s Oceans Act protections with fisheries closures under the Fisheries Act. While the Oceans Act restrictions are considered permanent, Fisheries Act closures can be changed at any time.

Protections for Hecate Strait
The area, about 2,400 square kilometres or half the size of P.E.I., has been given the following significant protections:
•    60 per cent of the area closed to harmful bottom-contact fisheries, plus additional Fisheries Act closures to fully protect the ancient glass sponge reefs from destructive fishing gear such as bottom trawl nets. 
•    A total ban on oil and gas exploration.

Why protections are important
•    The glass sponge reefs have been growing for 9,000 years and cover an area of about 1,000 sq. km.
•    The reefs were only discovered in 1987; before that, the sponges were thought to have gone extinct 40 million years ago.
•    In addition to their rarity, the sponges are an important habitat for endangered rockfish as well as species like halibut and prawns. They are especially important as a nursery for fish.
•    The sponges are extremely fragile and vulnerable to strikes from fishing equipment. They are also harmed by sediment when human activity disturbs the nearby seafloor.

David Miller, president and CEO of WWF-Canada, said:
“After years of work, WWF-Canada is very pleased that this new designation will protect the fragile glass sponge reefs, which exist nowhere else on Earth. This is a sensitive, significant ecosystem, and it was the right decision to create a buffer zone for the reef through closures under the Fisheries Act. But Fisheries Act closures are not permanent, unlike marine protected area regulations, and WWF-Canada will stay vigilant to ensure this important protection measure remains in place.” 

About World Wildlife Fund Canada
WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more information, visit

For further information
Catharine Tunnacliffe, communications specialist,, +1 647 624 5279.
Coastline near Haida Gwaii, British Columbia.
© Kevin McNamee / WWF-Canada Enlarge


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