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B.C.’s Waters

The creation of photomurals allows people to view expansive images of B.C.'s normally hard to photograph underwater world. Photographing underwater habitats in the Strait of Georgia can be particularly difficult, as our waters are often dark and turbid, owing to a combination of plankton-rich waters and silty run-off from the Fraser River. These two factors can make it almost impossible to take an expansive photograph or video that illustrates the geography and biological richness of the Strait of Georgia's underwater world.

Box Crab

Expansive Imagery

In order to overcome visibility problems, our research divers have photographed Ecological Index Site reefs piece by piece and constructed photomurals from these individual photos. This project has been aided by a grant from the Vancouver Foundation and by an evolving relationship with the Center for Digital Imaging and Sound (CDIS).


Bird Islets

Plumose anemones cover these rocks. To the left you can see a red tagged line, which is a Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking (POST) receiver and buoy. The mission of the POST project is to create further understanding of the behaviour of marine animals through the operation of a large-scale ocean telemetry and data management system.  POST serves as an accessible research tool for academics, resource agencies and the public. Long-term monitoring of marine animals will contribute to the conservation and stewardship of marine resources.

Breakwater Island, Gabriola Passage

Strong currents support dense clusters of fringed tubeworms on this reef. These tubeworms are one of the only hard-bodied, reef-dwelling species in British Columbia. Fringed tubeworms are fixed to the rocks in their tube, with only their head visible (red plume). Composites of photographs are balanced and merged with digitized computer methods to create photographic murals of the type of habitats created by these invertebrates.

Flume Creek, Sunshine Coast

Agarum kelp provides sheltering habitat for many species, including juvenile rockfish and juvenile spot prawns. Juvenile spot prawn abundance can vary quite widely between areas that are relatively close in distance. This observation suggests the possibility that prawn larvae may resist drifting with currents away from their hatching site, a prospect that would affect management considerations for prawn fisheries. Prawns are managed in relatively large areas.

Howe Sound

Cloud sponges can grow on rocky sea walls, called sponge gardens, or on top of the dead skeletons of other cloud sponges, which are a type of biologically generated reef called bioherms. This glass sponge bioherm depicts the only known bioherm within Howe Sound. Aquarium staff continued to monitor and photograph tagged sponges here. These sponges, usually found in deep cold waters, occur here at the shallowest depths known outside of Antarctica and are accessible to divers.

View HD field video (Howe Sound and St, of Georgia)

View a bioherm video (Howe Sound)


Kyuquot Sound

In British Columbia, baby rockfish hide under drifting kelp until they turn into adults. Unfortunately there are not as many rockfish in B.C. waters as there used to be. Many dive sites have far fewer rockfish today than 40 years ago as most of the older rockfish have been caught. Scientists want to help rockfish become numerous again. The first step is to find out how many there are currently so that we can tell when our efforts start working.

Passage Island, West Reefs

Rockpiles such as this provide excellent habitat for rockfish. Rockfish like their homes to be tight and cozy. The caves formed by rock piles are great for hiding from predators, especially if the rocks are stacked to let the fish hide deep down. Because rockfish look for caves that are close to their body size, it’s easy to figure out where they are—just look for a rock pile with rockfish-sized gaps.

Popham Island, Strait of Georgia

Plumose anemones and boot sponges decorate a cliff face on the western side of Popham Island. These sponges are tagged as part of ongoing biomonitoring activities. The position of the tags will change as the sponge grows. This long-term baseline inventory documents the life history of boot sponges and facilitates future examination of ecosystem shifts correlated with environmental influences. It is essential to document and visually represent the underwater world, and reveal changes occurring to these environments.

Point Atkinson Research Fishing Closure

This is a preliminary clay sculpture illustrating the Point Atkinson Research Fishing Closure reef. This reef, characterized by large plumose anemones, is home to a considerable variety of fish and invertebrates, most notably black rockfish the Vancouver Aquarium reintroduced in 1997. The majority of the fish species at this site can be found in amongst the rubble slide located in the centre of the picture. This sculpture may be used to help computer animators create a computer generated image of the reef.

Porteau Cove

Plumose anemones encrust a sunken ship in Porteau Cove, a Howe Sound marine sanctuary well known for its large lingcod. Large lingcod are no longer common in our waters, and the lingcod population in general has reached 3-5 percent of what it was a century ago. Every year, volunteers participate in the Lingcod Egg Mass Survey coordinated by the Vancouver Aquarium. Divers participating in the survey collect information on the number, size and condition of lingcod egg masses. This data help us determine the health of local lingcod populations.

Seymour Bay, Bowen Island

In areas where sea urchins occur at high density, their destructive grazing can produce habitats devoid of kelp or any other seaweed. These areas are called "urchin barrens." The high density of urchins is usually caused by a lack of natural urchin predators in the area. When sea urchins are removed from these sites, either manually or by disease, the reduction in grazing pressure often results in the development of highly productive kelp forests. These kelp beds provide shelter for a wide variety of marine organisms.

Texada Island Cloud Sponge Colony

In June 2003, Aquarium research divers revisited the Texada Island cloud sponge colony first surveyed in May. They discovered a large area devoid of sponges that were subsequently found loosely piled at the base of the cliff, which were cleanly sliced off and have since disappeared. The nature of the damage suggests contact by sport fishing downrigger gear. This has given Aquarium researchers an excellent opportunity to document how cloud sponges respond to physical damage.

Changes in Howe Sound Cloud Sponges

On April 24, the Vancouver Aquarium fish research dive team visited a large cluster of cloud (glass) sponges – vital habitat for marine life -  in Howe Sound that has been monitored for a half decade. The same area had been visited earlier this year on March 22 and everything had been intact at that time but, on April 24, it was evident that two large chunks had been sliced off by fishing gear (... read more on AquaBlog)

Fish researchers from the Vancouver Aquarium capture footage of cloud sponges in Howe Sound, just north of West Vancouver

Cloud Sponges of British Columbia

Dr. Bill Austin was designated a Research Associate of the Vancouver Aquarium in 1990, when the Howe Sound research team had initiated investigations of glass sponges. Bill Austin is a world expert on glass sponges, and has long been the director of the Khoyatan Marine Laboratory, first in Cowichan Bay and later in Sidney, BC, where the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre developed out of Bill's Marine Ecology Station. Bill Austin's own website has great information on sponge gardens for further reading. 

This video is of a recent interview in which Bill discusses the issues surrounding glass sponge reefs.

Tumbo Island, Strait of Georgia

Young bull kelp plants growing off Tumbo Island in the spring of 2002 create a different sort of marine habitat than the mature bull kelp that we can see at the sea surface during summer and fall. Bull kelp, an annual marine plant, is one of the largest kelps in the world, growing up to 25 metres in length. More importantly, bull kelp provides important nursery habitat for fish, giving them a safe place in which they can feed and grow before dispersing to other habitats.

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