October 2003


Pipefish Shenanigans
by Berry Wijdeven

Josina Davis is not having a good day. She is hungry and desperate to find some food. A couple of crunchy pipefish would sure hit the spot right now, but as long as the pipefish stay motionless, they're perfectly camouflaged by the eelgrass.

There's some movement in the grass. Josina rushes over, but by the time she gets to the disturbance, all is quiet again. Life as a predator can be tough. Until some of the pipefish get the giggles. For them it's game over.

I'm sitting in a classroom at the Port Clements Elementary School with Nadine Whittle, the teacher of this kindergarten grade1/2 class, observing the struggle for survival.

"Look at them," Nadine says. "They're having fun. How often in life do you get to be a pipefish?"

Not that often, as a matter of fact, but you do in Marine Matters, an educational program for 5 to 12 year olds. The program is co-sponsored by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and World Wildlife Fund Canada and is unique to Haida Gwaii. DFO recently expanded its education program to add an ocean component, while WWF was active coordinating the development of a Marine Strategy for the Islands. Both sponsors saw the need for a locally relevant marine education program and established a partnership. They contracted Josina Davis, a local educator with a background in nature programs and drama, to develop and deliver the program.

The goal of Marine Matters is to build understanding and awareness of the surrounding ocean ecosystems and to encourage a conservation and stewardship ethic. Last year, the first year of the program, Josina taught 160 lessons in 24 classrooms throughout all of Haida Gwaii, providing an introduction to ocean and intertidal life. Feedback from students and teachers was overwhelmingly positive, so the program returned for another year, this time with a focus on specific ocean habitats.

Back in the classroom, Josina passes around a crab moult. Initially some of the younger kids are a bit hesitant, wondering if the crab is still alive. Or worse, dead and stinky. Most of them have seen the moults littering the beach but they are amazed to learn that crabs shed these “skins” every time they grow bigger.

“I think the program she’s offering is real to the kids, its real life,” says Mrs. Whittle. “When you show them a globe, when you point your finger at the Islands, to them it’s so strange because it’s just so big and the Islands are so small. Whereas this program relates back to their own world.”

Nadine asks the kids why they like Josina’s visits to their classroom.

“She’s fun,” says one of the kids. “I like it because she teaches us about the creatures in the water.” Some kids like the songs, others enjoy the crafts and stories. Most like learning about all the animals. One boy likes the program because “Josina teaches us everything except school stuff and math.” Not quite; within minutes he is blissfully counting out animals and adding up creatures on a map.

I ask Nadine how the Marine Matters program fits in with her teaching.

“This fits in really well with environmental science, it fits in really well with the science program, it fits in all over. I look at the curriculum not as individual areas, social studies, science, math. I try to tie all the activities together.”

The kids have moved into a semi circle. Josina is showing them how predators get their food. Sea stars “smell” their prey with their arms and then remove their stomach, slipping it right into the shell of their prey, digesting the innards before reabsorbing the organ. The kids are understandably intrigued, but how much of this information will be retained? Nadine Whittle is not concerned.

“They tend to connect what we do. When we’re talking about something they hear a word and go: oh yeah, I remember that. It’s interconnected. Like what she’s talking about right now, tubular mouths, we might be talking about salmon and ask what kind of mouth do they have? Or remember the crustaceans? They eat differently. So they’re always tying it in, always trying to make those connections. We’ll talk about it throughout the week and draw everything back to things that they’ve learned from this program.”

Near the end of the lesson, some of the kids are standing by a table, staring intently at a jar filled with mud and water. They’ve been given an assignment to find out what lies hidden in the murky shadows. So far they’re not having much luck in spite of repeated shaking of the jar to twirl the water around.

“There’s nothing there,” says one of the girls. “It’s just mud.”

She gives the jar one final shake and lets the mud settle.

“I think I see something,” she says. “There! There it is!”

The other kids see it too and are just as excited about the discovery. It’s not much of a find, really, just a clamshell hidden in the mud, but the kids approach the subject with that sense of wonder seemingly reserved for children. Why do clams live in the mud? How do they breathe? What do they eat? How can they see? Josina tells them about life as a clam and within minutes the kids are acting out being clams, moving on one leg, extending their siphons to catch food. The classroom is transformed into a swaying clam bed. Later on, there will be a field trip to a mudflat to look at actual critters, but for now it’s mission accomplished; these kids won’t look at a seemingly mundane mudflat the same way again.

“This is a great job,” she says. “I can share my enthusiasm for the ocean and get to have fun with the material. Many of the kids already have a great interest living so close to the ocean. I just help them discover how it all fits together.”

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Creative, Headstrong and Driven
by Lynn Lee

Here I sit in my office, Ani deFranco sings about a goldfish and his castle that is a surprise every time, and I wonder at the irony of how trying to conserve nature requires so much time inside. Beyond my small window, the spruce trees sway to the rhythm of a southeaster and the alders surrender their leaves to its tempestuous breath. Further afield, the ocean surface beats to the rhythm of the storm. All appears to be well on this autumn day.

Yet below the surface, a crisis screams into the southeast wind. In my native Chinese language, the character for “crisis” stems from the characters for “danger” and “opportunity” – recognition of a turning point.

In a May 2002 workshop in Tlell, people of the Haida Gwaii marine community gathered with marine conservationist Elliott Norse to talk about this crisis. Discourse brewed around some heady marine issues facing us as Islanders who want to restore and maintain a vibrant and diverse marine culture. Amidst discussions from herring to sport fishing lodges to marine protected areas, the message was clear: A community-driven Marine Strategy for the waters around the Islands was needed and needed now.

A Haida Gwaii/QCI Marine Strategy. What does that mean and how does it fit into the web of marine planning? To start, we need to look at who’s in charge of what. On the local front, there’s the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN) who has laid title over the land, sea and air around Haida Gwaii/QCI – That would include the waters and seabed around us. Then there’s the Province of British Columbia claiming mineral title and the seabed of inshore waters whose boundaries are defined by joining headland to headland along the coast. Although this seems like a straightforward description, the lines defining inshore and offshore waters are not very clear. Finally, there are numerous federal government departments with jurisdiction over the water itself (inshore and offshore), fisheries resources and fish habitat, ocean ecosystem health, migratory bird habitat, species at risk, the seabed of offshore waters and marine transportation.

Next, let’s have a look at what marine planning processes are currently in place or on the horizon? The CHN and the Province have initiated a co-managed Land Use Planning Process (LUPP). Although the LUPP only considers values and issues above the high tide line, a similarly co-managed marine planning process is anticipated within the next year and a half. This marine process would likely include those values below the high tide line currently under provincial jurisdiction, including foreshore leases for developments such as shellfish farming, log dump and booming sites and fishing lodge sites. Perhaps the federal government will also be involved, considering values under their authority. Already, marine mapping is taking place as part of the Coast Information Team work through the Province, in anticipation of marine planning for Haida Gwaii/QCI, the North Coast and the Central Coast.

Through Turning Point, the Haida Nation along with other coastal First Nations from the Central and North Coasts are poised to embark on a marine planning process with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) through the Oceans Act. And also through the Oceans Act, the Haida are working with DFO, industry and conservation groups to establish the proposed Bowie Seamount Marine Protected Area.

With the recently passed National Marine Conservation Areas (NMCA) Act, a planning process to establish the proposed Gwaii Haanas NMCA reserve in South Moresby is imminent. A co-management agreement mirroring the Gwaii Haanas National Park and Haida Heritage Site Archipelago Management Board is expected. Cooperation between federal agencies Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada would also be required, in addition to meaningful consultation with local communities and interest groups to define an effective ecosystem-based management plan for the area.

Recent articles in the local paper seem to indicate movement forward for the proposed Gwaii Haanas NMCA reserve. The boundaries of the Gwaii Haanas Marine Area were drawn and a promise towards its establishment made 15 years ago with the signing of the Gwaii Haanas Agreement. The oil companies relinquished their mineral rights within the boundaries in 1997. The Province agreed to relinquish any rights that it might have on the seabed within the boundaries for the establishment of the NMCA reserve. The NMCA Act was passed through parliament in June 2002. And most recently, on October 2, 2003, a joint federal-provincial announcement in Vancouver named the Gwaii Haanas NMCA reserve as one of three sites (2 NMCAs and 1 National Park) of high priority for establishment in BC. Amongst all three sites, $65 million was promised to be spent.

All this sounds very positive but the reality of the situation is that progress over the past 15 years has been glacially slow and much work remains to be done. The CHN and federal government have not agreed on a co-management arrangement. Different federal departments, particularly DFO and Parks Canada, have not internally defined a working relationship around NMCAs. And despite government promises of money and imminent public consultation about Gwaii Haanas, committed dollars remain elusive. Add to this a general public distrust of government and strong vested business interests in fisheries resources, and the soup gets pretty thick.

Then add the eclectic local community directly linked in social, economic and research activities dependent on the enduring ecological health of the Haida Gwaii/QCI marine area. The too-numerous-to-list conservation and stewardship groups based on the Islands conduct and support research and outreach activities that broaden our collective understanding of the natural world around us. Other groups focus their work on salmon, salmon enhancement and habitat, and salmon fisheries. A Heritage Tourism Strategy defines our perspective on how we as Islanders relate to our environment, marine and terrestrial. There are subsistence, recreational and commercial fisher people; fishery license holders; tourism operators; shellfish aquaculturists; fish processors; sportsfishing guides; sportsfishing lodges; local governments and people who appreciate the ocean simply because it is. All these perspectives and more are the patchwork quilt that is our Islands marine community.

So in a convoluted way, we wind up back at a Haida Gwaii/QCI Marine Strategy – community and conservation driven. There are many outside powers that have and continue to define how and what will be done with the marine area around us. Even so the winds of change are blowing. More and more, the CHN is a governance partner in decision-making around the Islands. The public voice in marine management is slowly but surely gaining sway in government decisions most notably with regard to local areas. Although it will take a lot of hard work and great patience to see through one another’s eyes, the people of these Islands have the ability and the will. Because we live here, because we rely upon the health of this place for our well-being, the time has come for us to talk about what we want for our future and decide on courses of action that will take us there.

So you have it – the raison d’etre for an Islands Marine Strategy. It is a living discussion about where we want to get to and how we can get there from here. Think of it as a blueprint guiding the construction of our marine future. Some of the tools we need to build from include existing legislation such as the NMCA Act, the Fisheries Act and the Oceans Act. Others will be innovative tools of our own design – after all, Islanders are nothing if not creative and headstrong.

To continue discussions initiated in May, a workshop was held in December 2002. Many issues were discussed. Abalone. Salmon farming. Shellfish mariculture. Dungeness crab. General fishery management. Geoduck. Halibut. Herring. Krill. Lingcod. Local economy. Marine protected areas. Offshore oil and gas. Razor clam. Red sea urchin. Rockfishes. Sea otter. Sportsfishery. Trawlers/Draggers. Wild salmon. All were identified as important to Islanders at that meeting in Tlell which closed with a commitment to get together again to share information and ideas, debate issues and solutions.

Many people and agencies are actively involved in field research and compilation of existing marine information. Part of our work is to gather these together and map additional information to spur discussions around our values as a marine community. What and where are some of the tangible marine values surrounding us? What kinds of activities are occurring and where? What are the impacts of those activities on our environment? What activities do we support as a community and what might be their limits for development? What activities do we believe too great a risk? What are our immediate marine concerns and potential solutions to them?

To maintain momentum, we are aiming to host another Haida Gwaii/QCI Marine Strategy planning workshop in late November or early December 2003 to further our discussions and show and tell the information we have to date. ETA for a draft Haida Gwaii/QCI Marine Strategy? December 2004. The time is ripe for the Islands community to take marine matters into their own hands and on these Islands, having a deadline to shoot for is half the battle.

Invitations and agendas will be forwarded shortly to those who have received information about past workshops. If you are not currently receiving information but wish to in the future, please contact me at Marine Matters.

“Speak with one voice and people will listen. Let me tell a story. There was a father with five boys that constantly fought and were jealous of each other. One day the father tossed an arrow to the biggest and strongest boy and told him to break it. The boy did without any trouble. He then gave a whole pile of arrows to his son and told him to break them all at once. The boy could not. Others will listen if you can find a way to work together.” ~ Elliott Norse. May 2002, Tlell

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For the Love of Limpets
by Michele Deakin

So common to us, yet hardly noticeable on rocks, limpets seem so slow, dull…and yes, simple. At least so I thought until I learned about their homing habit. Limpets return to sit on the exact same spot over and over again! Think about this: Returning requires memory and memory requires intelligence. If a limpet has enough intelligence to know its home, what else are the species capable of?

This muse is what endeared me to limpets. How completely amazing and freeing to think of a limpet as capable of intelligent thought! With that, I started hunting for information and discovered thousands of websites related to this unassuming mollusc.

A member of the largest and most diverse group of marine invertebrates, limpets are related to oysters, clams, octopus, chitons and mores. Together, they form the phylum group Mollusca. Like most molluscs, the limpet has a soft body with three sections - a head, a muscular foot, and a mass of body organs. Protected up top by the hard flattened cone-shaped shell we beachcombers know, the limpet is a hard case to crack.

Limpets have no trap door otherwise known as an operculum, to protect their bodies from sun and predators, so they clamp their foot down with amazing strength and cling tightly to their spot on a rock. When touched by waves, predators, or inquisitive fingers, they suction their shell to the rocks, perfectly sealing out the world. Being able to exert up to 90 pounds of force keeps the limpet anchored in high water or when being licked by a hungry sea star.

Just as they are affected by the elements around them, limpets also impact the ecosystem they live in. Active mainly at night and when covered by water, limpets use their long tube-like toothed tongue, or radula, to scrape marine algae off rocks. Studies in Europe have shown that this grazing activity dictates the type and amount of algal growth in an area. In fact, one study found that if all the limpets in a location were killed by oil pollution, weedy algal growth would be extensive for several years, reducing local biological diversity. The algal growth would decrease when limpets returned to clear areas, thus creating space for barnacles and other sessile (attached non-moving) animals to live.

The most interesting fact I learned is that studies on their homing habit have not yet resolved the question of how limpets achieve this feat. Researchers have colour-coded spots on rocks and matched the spots to limpets. Although these studies confirm that limpets do indeed return to the same spot when the tide changes, there is no explanation of how they do this. Their poorly developed sensory organs are of little or no use to aid in this endeavour. Generally unaccepting of the idea that limpets may have memory, other scientists have tested chemical reactions or responses to physical setting, but despite all this research, the mechanics remain a mystery.

The next time I'm at the beach, I'll be searching out the mystery and beauty of this common little mollusc. It's wonders like this that give us a fresh perspective on our place - and how we relate to our spot on earth.

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The Cost of Good Taste
by Lynn Lee

Abalone. These mild-mannered molluscs are at the center of a game of international intrigue. Funded at times by drug money, poachers are bought shiny new boats with fast motors to supply abalone to the insatiable, high priced black market. Although poachers may have had experience in commercial shellfish fisheries, abalone poaching is thought to occur outside these legal fisheries. Instead, poachers take advantage of remote nooks and crannies in British Columbia’s extended coastline to hunker down and fish for abalone.

In a recent case, poachers on the Central Coast were processing abalone off a barge disguised as a small logging operation. Its discovery was made by accident when provincial conservation officers, looking for illegal game hunting, stopped to check a suspicious looking freezer truck near Terrace. Instead of deer or moose, they found a freezer-load of abalone. Detective work traced the freezer back to the barge. Under the barge, divers discovered over 7,000 empty abalone shells of every size.

Why should we care? We should care because BC’s northern abalone populations are now so low, they were listed as threatened in 1999 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). After 10 years of coast-wide closure on all abalone fishing, the populations still do not show signs of natural rebuilding. Poaching is suspected throughout the coast and while the real extent of poaching activities is not known, it is likely that few poachers are caught and that the numbers are significant. One thing is for certain. So long as there’s money to be made in abalone, poaching will continue.

Facing the fact that the coast-wide closure was ineffective at restoring BC’s abalone populations, the federal government allocated funding to initiate community-based abalone stewardship programs. Thus began the Haida Gwaii Abalone Stewards, a partnership of community groups and agencies on Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands working together to address the problem of the lonely abalone. This eclectic stewardship group is made up of First Nations (Haida Fisheries Program, Skidegate Band Council, Old Massett Village Council), conservation organizations (World Wildlife Fund Canada and Laskeek Bay Conservation Society), local community groups (Haida Gwaii Marine Resources Group Association), and federal government agencies (Parks Canada Gwaii Haanas, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada).

Recognizing that there was more than one possible reason for the continued lack of abalone recovery, the group developed a Community Action Plan through public consultation that tried to address many of the problems on the local level. Key elements of the Action Plan are communication and outreach, research, increased field surveillance and establishment of abalone stewardship areas.

Why are abalone not recovering? There are ecological and human factors that have contributed, although the specific impact of each is not known. It’s a fact that years of intensive fishing throughout the late 70’s and 80’s significantly reduced abalone populations. During those years of legal commercial fishing, an extensive illegal harvest was also taking place such that actual landings were much greater than those reported at the dock. Extensive poaching continues today, further hampering abalone recovery.

What is not known is what needs to be done to allow abalone populations to thrive once again. This is where the research fits in. Since 1998, the Haida Fisheries Program has been working with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to try and answer some of these tough questions. Are there now so few abalone spread over such a wide area that they cannot reproduce successfully? Will aggregating spawning abalone in smaller areas increase their reproductive success? Are there habitat-related issues that are limiting survival at different life stages? Is there significant competition for food with other herbivores such as sea urchins? Or is predation by humans and other animals the main problem?

The establishment of two abalone stewardship areas, one at the north end and one at the south end of Haida Gwaii, is vital to rebuilding efforts. Here, focused stewardship efforts can ensure that poaching levels are reduced and hopefully eliminated within the research sites. Monitoring of control and experimental sites within stewardship areas and comparison of abalone abundance inside and outside the sites may begin to tell the story about why abalone populations are not recovering.

Through outreach and education, the stewardship group is broadening public understanding about the plight of abalone. Brochures, factsheets and public presentations help spread the word. A school curriculum to teach the younger generation about abalone has also been developed and implemented in elementary schools throughout the Islands. Many of these children have never even seen a live abalone!

Implementation of the Abalone Watch program will increase surveillance for poaching activities. Similar to DFO’s CoastWatch program, AbWatch will engage the community of people on the waters around the Islands in awareness and reporting of suspicious activities. The Haida Watchmen, tour operators, fishing lodges, local guides and other marine adventurers will help protect local abalone.

The Haida Gwaii Abalone Stewards hope to see abalone populations around Haida Gwaii recover to numbers that will once again support small food fisheries. Even in the presence of voracious sea otters, Haida people harvested abalone for many generations. Traditionally, they were only harvested in the intertidal zone by handpicking or in the shallow subtidal using a two-pronged spear. These methods meant that abalone in the deeper parts of their habitat were always protected from human harvest. If abalone can ever be harvested again, restrictions such as these would be vital to a responsible fishery.

It will take a lot of work, perseverance and faith for the Islands community to once again savour the delicate taste of abalone. It is a lofty goal considering that no other abalone fishery in the world has ever reopened once closed for conservation reasons. With the communities’ support, the Haida Gwaii Abalone Stewards believe it’s possible here.

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As Good As It Gets
by Berry Wijdeven

They had been sailing for twenty hours, out on the open Pacific, bucking a nasty headwind for most of the night. A few times, they debated turning back for shore. By morning the sea had calmed and a big red sun rose out of the water to meet a blue, blue sky. It promised to be a spectacular day and spirits on the 32-foot long Excalibur were high. Skipper Brian Fuhr, his wife Kathleen and son Ian were excited. Unlike previous attempts, it looked like this year they might actually succeed - the Bowie Seamount was within reach.

Brian took a final reading off the brand new DFO chart, the result of a recent multi-beam survey of the area. The chart was said to be extraordinarily accurate and had provided the crew with much of the confidence to make the trip. Brian fixed their position with the GPS unit, confirming what he had hoped for. They had reached the desired coordinates - the Bowie Seamount. He turned on the depth sounder, and stared in disbelief at the empty screen. Nothing. No telltale contours, no jagged shadows indicating a landmass of any kind. The depth sounder showed nothing but miles and miles of endless, bottomless ocean.

Brian first heard about the Bowie nearly a decade ago. At the time, he was part of the Skeena Region team charged with assessing the ecological areas in the region, looking for the most promising ones in terms of conservation, recreation and cultural values. Says Brian: “Obviously the Bowie Seamount stands out if you’re talking about the best of the best. In terms of fish productivity, uniqueness, a seamount is as good as it gets.”

Seamounts are underwater mountains created through volcanic action. They rise steeply through the water column without reaching the surface, although some come close. While there are a number of seamounts in Canadian waters, the Bowie is by far the shallowest, rising from a depth of 3100 meters to within 25 meters of the ocean surface. And while its base is almost 55 kilometres long, the summit is but the size of a large living room.

The Bowie Seamount is located approximately 180 km west of Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte Islands. It is considered to be relatively young, having formed less than a million years ago. Scientists believe that during the last ice age, it was an active volcanic island. Sea levels were much lower then, and there is evidence of wave erosion on the seamount, as well as Haida knowledge of Sgaan Qintlas (Bowie), to support this theory.

Like other seamounts, the Bowie supports a rich ecosystem. Ocean currents welling up from the base of the seamount provide deep-ocean nutrients to phytoplankton and zooplankton near the surface. These in turn form the base for an elaborate food web. There are crabs, sea stars, anemones and barnacles. Wolf eel, octopus and sleeper sharks. Stellar sea lions, seals and white-sided dolphins. Albatross, storm petrels and sooty shearwaters. All make the seamount their home or stop over during their travels.

Aside from scientific curiosity, what has attracted humans to the seamount has been the fish. The Bowie is rich fishing ground, supporting vast quantities of sablefish (black cod), turbot, sole, skate and halibut as well as a stupendous quantity of various rockfish.

Rockfish most likely travel to the Bowie as larvae, but once they get there, they’re stuck for life. Surrounded by a vast deep ocean, there’s little chance to make it back to the continental shelf. Allowing an extensive harvest would therefore be a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. And while the schools at the seamount are plentiful, it wouldn’t take much effort to wipe them out.

Says Brian: “The Cobb Seamount which is just outside the 200 mile limit off the coast of Washington was fished to very low levels of rockfish in less than five years. If you read some of the Bowie background report, you’ll see there actually have been some significant species shifts even out at the Bowie.”

As a result, fishing on the Bowie has been severely curtailed, by scientific permit only, and in 1998, then Fisheries Minister David Anderson announced that the Bowie Seamount was being considered as a pilot Marine Protected Area for its rich biological productivity, potential role as a biological oasis and potential staging area for migrating birds and mammals.

But in order to observe the Bowie ecosystem, you first have to find it and the crew of the Excalibur wasn’t having much success.

“This was our worse case scenario that we’ve thought about and even discussed,” says Brian. “Actually getting there and not being able to find it. So it had to be a simple mistake, right?”

First the crew double-checked their GPS coordinates, their conversions and chart datum. All seemed to be in order. They then started zigzagging the surrounding ocean, hoping to locate something on their depth sounder. After an hour or so of staring at the blank screen, they came to the realization that this was not the way they were going to find the needle in the haystack.

“We were becoming desperate. The afternoon was clicking away, we were having absolute perfect weather conditions. Not a breath of wind. The albatrosses were swimming in the water, there wasn’t enough wind to fly.”

It had taken the crew three tries over three years to find a weather window suited to their small boat. Now that they had made it all the way out here, they weren’t about to give up that easily. Brian pulled out his ace in the hole: a satellite phone. With it, he could contact the mainland to get information regarding the actual location of the seamount. But where to start?

“I phoned Fisheries and Oceans, the guys responsible for the Bowie Seamount program and I tried the scientific authority there, listed as the Canadian Hydrographic Service. And of course you get messages and voice mails and things. I went through everything I could think of and got nowhere.”

As a last resort, Brian contacted the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Seattle, Washington, after noting that they had provided the ship used for the survey which formed the basis of the chart. After bouncing around their phone system for a while, he finally got connected with Kim Sampadian.

“You are WHERE?” Kim said incredulously and then informed him that, yes, she had been a member of the survey team, and yes, she had the data, but unfortunately she was in the middle of moving so everything was in boxes and couldn’t really be accessed. Brian’s heart sank. This had been his last hope. Kim offered to have a quick look and call back.

“So here we bobbed around on the ocean, watching the blank depth sounder for about half an hour or so and the phone rang in the middle of the ocean. And it’s my angel from NOAA who said: ‘OK, I’ve got that number for you. Your latitude is right on, but your longitude is off.’ ”

After thanking Kim, the crew sailed the Excalibur in the indicated direction and BANG, up popped the Bowie on the depth sounder. They had made it.

Because the Bowie is one of the few seamounts that come within reach of the ocean surface, its one of the few diveable seamounts in the world. This is what they had been looking forward to all this time - diving the Bowie. But while Brian and Ian were both experienced divers, this was still a high risk dive.

“You don’t have any second chances out there and you don’t have any backup,” says Brian. “So it was not a dive to take lightly. And we were actually surprised by how much current there was, probably half a knot. You had to swim to stay beside the boat. We’ve been in the water offshore before, but this had our full attention.”

After checking their equipment, they started the dive.

“It was beautiful. It was maybe two in the afternoon, sun’s high, middle of the summer, it doesn’t get any better. And we looked down and I thought I could see the bottom. We went down another 30 feet or so and realized it wasn’t the bottom at all. It was all rockfish, a cloud of rockfish.”

When they descended to the top of the seamount, they were in for a treat.

“The bottom was solidly, solidly packed with life. Stuff growing everywhere. Fish everywhere. Unusual fish, things you don’t see onshore. And the most remarkable congregation of rockfish I have ever seen.”

They feasted their eyes, trying to take it all in, trying not to get too excited. To breathe slowly and stretch their oxygen supply. All too soon, however, fifteen minutes later, it was time to return to the surface. On the boat, they had a quick celebration before sailing back to the protection of Haida Gwaii, mission accomplished.

For Brian, sailing and diving the Bowie was the culmination of a lifetime of exploring.

“I enjoyed the sheer determination of wanting to explore every possible avenue we could to try to find that location. The chances of finding a weather window as perfect as that, convincing your crew that we should go to this much trouble to try such a crazy thing again. It’s pretty remote. It’s easily a once in a lifetime thing.”

It’s been six years since the Bowie Seamount was announced as a candidate pilot Marine Protected Area. Since then, the study area has been expanded to incorporate the adjacent Hodgkins and Davidson Seamounts in an effort to capture more of an ecosystem approach. Work has progressed on the compilation of an ecosystem overview report, exploration of a co-management agreement with the Haida, and consultation with stakeholders. There is, however, still some way to go. It took six years for the Endeavour Hot Vents to be declared an MPA and after six years, the Bowie appears nowhere near that close.

In an effort to speed up the process, World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF), Pacific Division, released a research paper in June of this year entitled Management Direction for the Bowie Seamount MPA. The intent of the paper is to address conservation, research and fishing requirements within the proposed MPA and provide direction for the development of a management plan. WWF anticipates that the paper will expedite the designation of the Bowie Seamount as a Marine Protected Area. We can hope. For in the words of Brian Fuhr, the Bowie Seamount is as good as it gets.

To read the WWF research paper go to:

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Nudibranchs Exposed or You Are What You Eat
by Berry Wijdeven

At first glance you'd think nudibranchs wouldn't stand much of a chance, out there in the wild and woolly ocean waters. Without any obvious defense mechanisms they appear pretty exposed. Nudibanchs are shell-less snails which roam across the ocean floor without so much as an inch of protective armour, naked, with their lungs (gills) located on the outside of their body for all the world to see. Or chew.

To add insult to injury, nudibranchs are nearly blind, able to differentiate only between light and dark. Speed cannot save them; nudibranchs are slugs, related to clams and chitons and crawl around at well, a snails pace. They also can’t just blend into their environment as many nudibranchs are festooned with brilliant colours ranging from orange and yellow to electric blue and neon green.

Size isn‘t always on their side either, for while some nudibranchs are pretty small, others are the size of watermelons, making inconspicuousness difficult. Even scientists have given nudibranchs little respect, calling them names such as Shaggy Mouse, Sea Lemon or Clown nudibranch. In short, the odds seem to be stacked against them. Yet nudibranchs have managed to flourish, with more than 3,200 species found the world over.

So how do nudibranchs manage to survive, and thrive, in this seemingly hostile environment? Charm? A sense of humour? Hardly! Truth is, nudibranchs are not quite the meek defenseless creatures they appear to be. They are fierce predators, feared by sponges, anemones, tube worms, sea squirts, barnacles and jellyfish alike. To compensate for their limited eyesight, they use two chemosensory antennae (rhinospores) on their head to locate their prey by smell. Once they have “sniffed out” a suitable victim, they use rows of tiny barbed teeth to pierce the protective shells or scrape off morsels of food.

Eating this prey can be tricky since many of the nudibranch’s targets have developed defence mechanisms such as the release of poisonous or distasteful chemicals or the presence of stinging cells to scare off predators. But in a brilliant evolutionary adaptation nudibranchs have not only learned to cope with these chemical impediments, they have managed to turn them to their advantage. They have found a way to absorb and metabolize the bitter or poisonous substances, the stinging cells or tiny spines of their prey and incorporate them into their own defense system. As a result, fish trying to eat nudibranchs have been seen spitting them back out, turned off by the bitterness or stinging sensation. And the bright colours of the nudibranchs, rather than being a liability, appear to remind the fish to stay away from these objectionable creatures.

Interestingly enough, when nudibranchs are born they do have shells while they limit themselves to a diet of plankton. When they get older and switch to the more hearty diet of bitter tasting things and itchy, stingy critters, they loose this protection, counting instead on their newly acquired stomach-turning talents for survival, proving again the old saying that you are what you eat.

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