The Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) began a week long expedition earlier this week to the glass sponge reefs of Vancouver, BC’s Howe Sound in a 3-person submersible, the first mission undertaken to explore what scientists have dubbed “living fossils.”
Glass sponges are found worldwide, but they are unique to BC in that they continue to grow over the skeletons of dead sponges to create enormous deep water reefs along the continental shelf. Their “glass” skeletons are formed through high levels of dissolved silica in the water, and they thrive on the nutrient-rich cold water upwellings that are typical to the region.
The first glass sponge was discovered in 1986, when scientists unwittingly came across a 9,000 year old specimen standing 8 stories high. Until then, scientists had no idea the species was still extant; they only knew glass sponge reefs as fossils from 160 million years ago. Subsequent research has revealed that glass sponge reefs proliferate the waters around British Columbia, with more than 280 square miles of reef revealed and scientists expecting to discover more.