New research describing the location of biological hotspots off the central coast of British Columbia will aid efforts to protect the endangered and environmentally significant species they contain.
The study, entitled “Hotspots for Rockfishes, Structural Corals, and Largebodied Sponge Along the Central Coast of Pacific Canada,” published in Scientific Reports, is the result of a collaboration between scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance. Using a variety of sampling techniques, including scuba diving and remote cameras, these researchers analyzed the data collected over 11 years and described the location and depth of three groups of species: stonefish, sponges, and corals.
They identified “biological hotspots” in the region where members of these groups are plentiful and diverse. These hotspots were found not only in the deeper ocean, but also in the fjords and inland channels of the Central Coast, said Alejandro Frid, one of the study’s lead authors.
“Even in the fjords there are some very significant coral collections that we call ‘sponge gardens’ and also some of the deep-sea dolphin fish that are normally associated with more oceanic waters,” said Frid.
The members of these three study groups are important to the marine ecosystems in the region.
As top predators, stonefish form marine food webs and increase diversity. Sponges filter bacteria, viruses, and toxins, circulate carbon, and provide food and shelter for other species. Corals provide habitat for other species, including stonefish, and also store carbon, Frid said.
However, these groups are also vulnerable to human exposure, including the direct and indirect effects of commercial fishing.
Rock fish have declined from overfishing as they slowly mature and reproduce, while sponges and corals are often physically damaged by fishing gear such as long lines and traps.
The researchers combined the hotspot maps for each group to “produce a very polished and rigorous description of the overall key areas,” he said.
This map will complement local and traditional knowledge to inform a federal technical group working to determine where new marine protected areas should be created in the region. However, given the vulnerability of the focus species and the time it takes to design and implement such protected areas, hotspots should now be considered for temporary protection, Frid said.
Reducing fishing pressures by protecting these hotspots could help these marine species overcome the effects of climate change such as warming, acidification and oxygen starvation, he said.
“Of the two biggest stressors, climate change and fisheries, we can manage fisheries better and much faster,” he said. “By closing these protected areas, the species groups can better absorb climate shocks by reducing other main stressors.”
Environment, marine conservation, science