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Globally-unique cold-water coral reef protected indefinitely from fishing

BC’s only live coral reef is now protected from all fishing.

The Lophelia Reef in Finlayson Channel on the Central Coast, north of Bella Bella, was closed indefinitely for fishing on February 14 by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. It’s the most northern coral reef in the Pacific Ocean and was only discovered in 2021.

The area is remote and not widely fished, but researchers found evidence of damage to the coral, likely caused by bottom-contact fisheries.

DFO scientist Dr. Cherisse Du Preez, who studied the reef, says it’s like no other corals in the world.

“The reef is an astonishing finding. ‘Coral reef’ joins sea wolves, spirit bears, sea lions, and herring as the newest addition to the diversity of wildlife found within the famous waterways of the Great Bear Rainforest,” she said. “This hidden hotspot is like a tropical coral reef but in the dark. When we ‘turn on the lights’ we see mounds and valleys, crabs, octopus, schools of fish, and more. One other remarkable aspect; the long margins of coral reef touching and coexisting with glass sponge reefs. Since this is the only coral reef known to occur in Pacific Canada and glass sponge reefs only happen here, these margins may be the only place on Earth where this incredible interspecies relationship exists.”

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The reef is important to the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation, who participated in the research.

“The strong collaboration between First Nations and the federal government, where Indigenous knowledge harmoniously intertwines with scientific methods, has unveiled a remarkable ecosystem,” said Douglas Neasloss, Chief Councilor for the Kitasoo Xai’xais.” “This partnership has not only safeguarded the unique, sensitive habitat of the Lophelia Reef, but has also paved the way for future, collaborative marine protection. Given the challenges posed by climate change and management uncertainties, we eagerly anticipate further cooperation with our crown partners through the MPA network action plan to preserve other ecologically and culturally significant regions.”

The reef is now under consideration to be made a national conservation area.

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