New research describing the location of biological hotspots off the central coast of British Columbia will support efforts to protect the vulnerable and ecologically important species they contain.
Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study entitled “Hotspots for rockfishes, structural corals, and large-bodied sponges along the central coast of Pacific Canada”, is the result of a collaboration between scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Central Coast Indigenous Resource Alliance. . By analyzing data collected over 11 years using a variety of sampling techniques, including scuba diving and remote cameras, these researchers described the location and depth of three groups of species: redfish , sponges and corals.
They identified “biological hot spots” in the region where members of these groups are abundant and diverse. Not only have these hot spots been found in the depths of the 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 very large aggregations of coral, what we call ‘sponge gardens’, as well as some of the deepwater rockfish normally associated with more oceanic waters,” Frid said.
The members of these three study groups are important to the marine ecosystems of the region.
As top predators, redfish shape marine food webs, increasing diversity. Sponges filter bacteria, viruses and toxins, recycle carbon, and provide food and shelter for other species. Corals provide habitat for other species, including rockfish, and also store carbon, Frid said.
But these groups are also vulnerable to human impacts, including the direct and indirect effects of commercial fishing.
Redfish have declined due to overfishing as they are slow to mature and reproduce, while sponges and corals are often physically damaged by fishing gear such as longlines and traps.
The researchers combined the hotspot maps for each group to create “a very sophisticated and rigorous description of where the most important areas are,” 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 located in the region. But given the vulnerability of focal species and the time it takes to design and implement such protected areas, Frid said hot spots should be considered for interim protection now.
Reducing fishing pressure by protecting these hot spots could help these marine species overcome the impacts of climate change, including warming, acidification and depleted oxygen, he said.
“Of the two main stressors, climate change and fishing, these are the fisheries that we can manage better and much more immediately,” he said. “So by setting aside these protected areas, species groups will be able to better absorb climate shocks, reducing these other major stressors. “
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