New marine refuges in the Howe Sound to protect glass sponge reefs

News release

Vancouver, B.C. — Keeping our oceans clean, safe and healthy is essential for our environment and our economy. The Government of Canada is committed to protecting the ocean and the abundance of marine biodiversity that calls it home.  

Today, Minister for Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, announced the establishment of eight marine refuges in Howe Sound to protect nine newly discovered glass sponge reefs. Located in the Salish Sea, immediately northwest of Vancouver, the Howe Sound glass sponge reefs are some of the most biologically productive reefs, providing habitat for more than 84 species of invertebrates and fish, such as prawns and rockfish. Together, the 9 reefs clean over 17 billion litres of water – the equivalent of nearly 6,800 Olympic swimming pools - in Howe Sound every day, filtering bacteria and processing carbon and nitrogen.

Fishery closures to preserve the glass sponge reefs will take effect in advance of the spring fishing season and apply to all commercial, recreational and Indigenous bottom contact fishing activities. Prawn and crab traps, shrimp and groundfish trawls, groundfish hook and line, and the use of downrigger gear in recreational salmon trolling are now prohibited within the protected areas. Glass sponge reefs are highly fragile, grow slowly and take a long time to recover once damaged, making them particularly vulnerable to impacts from these types of fishing gear.

These marine refuges have been established following consultations with local First Nations, federal and provincial government agencies, industry and conservation organizations as part of an ecosystem-based management approach that strives to create a healthy balance between vibrant aquatic systems and communities.


“These ancient and vibrant reefs remind us of just how important it is to protect unique and ecologically significant ecosystems that exist, sometimes right at the doorstep of a major metropolitan city. These new marine refuges are a great example of how we can achieve effective ocean management and marine conservation when all interested parties work together towards a common goal”.

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

“The prehistoric glass sponge reefs found along the Pacific coast are an international treasure that plays an important role in our marine ecosystems. The Government of Canada is committed to protecting the biological diversity and health of the marine environment in Canada for present and future generations.”

Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Member of Parliament for West Vancouver – Sunshine Coast – Sea to Sky Country

Quick facts

  • The establishment of these new marine refuges marks yet another important step towards Canada’s commitment to reach its conservation targets of protecting 10% of marine and coastal areas by 2020.

  • The Howe Sound Glass Sponge Reef marine refuges will contribute an additional 3.5 km2 to Canada’s protected marine and coastal areas.

  • Glass sponge reefs are only found in the Pacific Northwest of North America. They were thought to have gone extinct until they were found by Natural Resources Canada in 1987—a discovery that scientists have compared to finding a herd of dinosaurs.

  • Closures will preserve the glass sponge reefs from all bottom-contact fishing activities and will take effect in advance of the 2019 spring fish season.

Related products


Jocelyn Lubczuk
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard

Media Relations
Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Stay connected

Page details

Date modified: