Quirks & Quarks

Diving deep for glass sponge reefs

A team of researchers is exploring a unique ecosystem off the B.C. coast.
Glass sea sponge reefs are rare: they're only found in the deep ocean, off the coast of B.C. (Sally Leys)

Most scientists spend weeks and months toiling away in labs and lecture halls. But if they're lucky, their research can sometimes take them out of that routine. 

Dr. Sally Leys is in the Hecate Strait off the coast of British Columbia, leading an expedition that's exploring the health of the rare glass sponge reefs that are found here. 
Watch: Live video feed from the 2017 Glass Sponge Reef Research Cruise: An expedition to Canada's newest Marine Protected Area

Green fluorescine is used to visualize flow through the sponge. In the back, a thermistor tip is inserted into an osculum. (Sally Leys)

Some of these reefs are thought to be over 9000 years old. Fossilized versions in Europe date back to the Jurassic period, but nowhere else have living examples been found. They are a completely unique ecosystem. 

As of February of this year, the need to preserve them was recognized by the creation of the Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area. 

ROPOS is the remotely operated vehicle, stocked full of cameras and instruments, ready to scan the ocean depths.

Dr. Leys is a professor in the department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton. 

But Bob McDonald, host of Quirks & Quarks, spoke to her on board the Canadian Coast Guard's research vessel, the John P. Tully. 

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