The discovery of four major glass sponge reefs in 1987 sparked interest in these delicate and vulnerable marine animals. Thought to be extinct worldwide, the four reefs in Hecate Strait were determined to be over 9000 years old. The reefs are very large, covering a total area of about 1000 km2. They are located at depths of 140 to 240 m below the surface, with the largest being 35km long, 15km wide and 25m tall. Individual sponges on the reef may live for more than 200 years.
These sponges are fragile, with skeletons made of silica, or glass. Sponges are easily broken on impact, and can be smothered by increased sediment. If the skeletons of dead sponges are buried or destroyed, new sponges cannot grow to add stability to the reef.
With the cooperation of the conservation community and the commercial groundfish trawl industry, the four reefs were closed to groundfish trawl fishing in 2002. In 2006 the initial closures were expanded in size and in gear restrictions to provide more protection for the reefs. However, the existing trawl fishery closures do not provide the ability to effectively manage the broad range of activities that could damage elements of this ecosystem. The Hecate Strait / Queen Charlotte Sound glass sponge reefs are a candidate MPA, which would provide comprehensive and long-term management and protection for this unique area.