By Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter THE COLUMBIA VALLEY PIONEER
It is just as crucial to protect all life below sea-level as it is above it.
That was the mandate motivating Oceana Canada when it partnered with Fisheries and Oceans Canada in July 2018 to explore a huge undersea area off the B.C. coast.
Nearly five years later, the organization is celebrating a commitment to draft regulations protecting a 133,019 square-kilometres (km2) area off the west coast of Vancouver Island.
Home to hydrothermal vents and 93 per cent of Canada’s known underwater mountains referred to as ‘seamounts’, the area’s pending protection was announced on Feb.y 7 at IMPAC5, a global forum on marine habitat protection, hosted in Vancouver.
After years of work by Indigenous Peoples, stakeholders, government agencies and conservation groups, these proposed regulations are set to protect an area four times the size of Vancouver Island, making it the newest and second largest marine protected area (MPA) in Canada.
A memorandum of understanding (agreement) has been reached between Canada and the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, the Council of the Haida Nation, Pacheedaht First Nation, and Quatsino First Nation to cooperatively manage the proposed new MPA.
The MPA, named Tang. ?wan · ?a?x?iqak · Tsig?is contributes to Canada’s international commitments to protect 25 per cent of its marine and coastal areas by the year 2025.
Once the draft regulations are made public, a 30-day public commentary period will follow, after which Fisheries and Oceans Canada will make its final decision on the MPA designation.
Oceana Canada, an independent charity established in 2015, has backed deep-sea research revealing the existence of centuries-old forests of red tree corals and glass sponges that provide habitat for numerous animals, including sea lilies, basket stars, octopuses, prowfish and many long-lived rockfish.
Above the seamounts, the upwelling of deep nutrient-rich water fuels the growth in planktonic life that attracts larger species such as tuna, sharks and whales such as humpbacks, as well as seabirds including tufted puffins.
“The stunning diversity and abundance of life on the seamounts leave no room for hesitation about protecting them,” said Dr. Robert Rangeley, science director, Oceana Canada, in a February press release.
“The fragile nature of the seamounts and their importance to marine life mean that we just can’t allow any activities that may threaten them, like dragging fishing gear or deep-sea mining. This is a critical step toward protecting this extremely important marine ecosystem.”