Deep-Sea Oasis of Corals, Sponges, and Vents Could Become Canada’s Largest Marine Protected Area

Date: November 30, 2020

Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts
Author: Peter Baker

The proposed Offshore Pacific Area of Interest (AOI) off the coast of British Columbia contains underwater mountains, some 10,000 feet high, overlooking a vast network of hydrothermal vents that spew hot sulfur and nutrients into the surrounding water. This unique environment, first discovered in 1982, supports a biologically dense alien-like ecosystem based on heat and sulfur rather than light or carbon, and encompasses more than 51,300 square miles—an area about four times the size of Vancouver Island. Researchers have documented more than 500 unique animal species in this deep-sea region, which Canada has chosen to become its largest protected area on land or sea.

Described by conservation groups as a “deep-sea oasis,” the proposed AOI would protect 2.3% of Canada’s territorial waters and would encompass all of the country’s hydrothermal vents and 75% of its known seamounts, including the Explorer Seamount, which is almost twice the area of New York City. The slopes of the Explorer, known to researchers as “Spongetopia,” are reminiscent of a tropical reef ecosystem—carpeted with diverse and unique populations of corals and sponges. By establishing the Offshore Pacific AOI, Canada will help ensure that this network of seamounts, sponges, and globally rare hydrothermal vents is protected from industrial activities such as bottom trawling and deep-sea mining, and can continue providing opportunities to enrich scientific knowledge about one of the planet’s greatest geological and biological wonders.

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