One half of the dive teams preparing for a dive, watched by Chief Scientist Seaton Taylor wearing orange. The CCGS Vector is in the background. (Nick Murray/News Staff)

Scuba scientists help save endangered marine life off Vancouver Island

Adult northern abalone numbers have plummeted 90 per cent

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) are using scuba diving scientists in their attempts to get vulnerable marine species off the endangered list.

Some of the best scientists in the country work for the DFO and many operate out of the “brain hub” in North Saanich, home to a number of government agencies, such as the Institute of Ocean Sciences and the Geological Survey of Canada.

Next door is a Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) base, where personnel offer logistical support to scientists from a range of universities and government affiliated bodies.

Arresting the decline in northern abalone health and numbers is one such project DFO scientists and the Coast Guard work together on. Using Coast Guard ships and know-how, scientists are able to stay at sea for up to 28 days and access remote areas otherwise beyond their reach.

Last week, a team of eight scientists was installed on board the CCGS Vector with a mission of visiting northern abalone sites off the southern coast of Vancouver Island. They aimed to record specimen measurements, population density and the habitat health of a creature protected under law from harvest.

As well as being excellent in their field, the scientists were a hardy bunch, with decades of experience in scuba diving and piloting boats in squally weather.

They methodically conducted eight one-hour dives a day, suiting up rain or shine, and tossing themselves into the cold water to survey the sites.

Northern abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) is a marine snail, with beautiful shells that have been highly prized in the past. The creature breathes through holes in its shell and filters dissolved oxygen with its gills. It has a muscular foot that is fringed with tentacles and lives among shallow rocks, in patches around B.C.

RELATED: Coast Guard shows off Canadian can-do attitude

These 10- to 160 millimetre-long invertebrates are now on the endangered list and adults have declined 90 per cent since 1978. The molluscs are vulnerable as they live for 20 years, grow slowly, mature late and only reproduce sporadically. Add in habitat loss, an abundance of predators and the biggest threat – illegal harvest – and you have a species struggling to survive the 21st century. Significantly poachers target the larger adults, often leaving young females who produce fewer eggs.

“Right now we’re seeing smaller, younger abalone and not as many big adults in our index sites. Traditionally the minimum size limit for commercial fisheries was 100 millimetres and now we don’t see as many individuals in that size class,” says Shannon Obradovich, stock assessment program head for marine invertebrates at the DFO.

“Population density is some areas of B.C. is so low that successful reproduction is unlikely.”

ALSO READ: BC Ferries launches summer discount promotion

Index sites are investigated every five years and the program has a modest budget of $40,000 that covers sampling supplies, and skiff and dive equipment maintenance costs.

Obradovich thinks using scuba divers is important to give abalone the best chance of survival.

“Northern abalone are an important part of the near-shore ecosystem. They are prey for other animals and they themselves feed on kelp. Historically they have also been important to First Nations in British Columbia, ceremonially and as an important food source.”



nick.murray@peninsulanewsreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

DFO scientists Dominique Bureau and Matt Grinnell between dives on board a Canadian Coastguard boat. (Nick Murray/News Staff)

Just Posted

St. Luke Cedar Hill Anglican Church hosts open house, spring cemetery clean up

Learn more about the region’s oldest cemetery May 25, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Three arrested in Sooke drug bust

RCMP targeted traffickers in fentanyl, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine

Standalone Beach Drive plum tree gets love

Ivy pulled off plum tree next to Queens’ Park

B.C.’s fight to regulate bitumen through pipelines to go to Canada’s top court

BC Appeal Court judges found B.C. cannot restrict bitumen flow along Trans Mountain pipeline

POLL: Were you satisfied with the Game of Thrones series finale?

Millions gathered in front of their televisions Sunday night to watch the… Continue reading

Greater Victoria wanted list for the week of May 21

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Vancouver woman sexually assaulted after man follows her home; suspect at large

Police are looking for an Asian man in his 40s after the incident on Vancouver’s east side.

B.C. man, 30, arrested for driving his parent’s cars while impaired twice in one day

The Vancouver-area man was arrested after officers caught him driving impaired twice in one day

New airline regulations bring compensation for tarmac delays, over-bookings

Some of the new regulations will roll out in July, while others are expected for December.

More than half of Canadians support ban on handguns, assault rifles: study

Divide between rural and urban respondents in latest Angus Reid Institute public opinion study

Spring rain needed as B.C. sees one of the lowest snowpack levels in 40 years

Snowpack levels in B.C. recorded on May 15 were similar to those in 2015 and 2016

Theresa May to quit as party leader June 7, sparking race for new PM

The new Conservative leader will become prime minister without the need for a general election

Most Read