New article about glass sponge reefs

By Amanda Kahn

Glass sponges are in the news!  A lot lately…  This is fine by me–the more we all know about these amazing deepwater animals, the better.  Maybe one day I’ll have a conversation with a stranger that doesn’t involve me explaining that glass sponges are not the same as “sponges used for scrubbing wine glasses” (though there is such a thing).

Glass Castles in the Sea
Reef-building sponges are giving up their long-held secrets.

by Cheryl Lyn Dybas
Published in Natural History magazine

Anyway, check out the article, which features a lot of the research done by the Leys Lab at the University of Alberta (with some of the work done at BMSC), including how they feed, what they eat, how and where reefs form, how humans may impact them, and why CPAWS-BC is pushing to have them considered for protection.

Studying the globally unique glass sponge reefs

By Amanda Kahn

[Cross-posted on the Students Ensuring our Oceans’ Future blog.]

One month ago, we were busy in the lab at the University of Alberta preparing and calibrating instruments, gathering GPS waypoints, and preparing dive plans. Three weeks ago, we drove and flew to Vancouver Island with our equipment and plans. Two weeks ago, we boarded a ship to study the glass sponge reefs in the Strait of Georgia in B.C.

CCGS Vector

Heading out on CCGS Vector, our home away from home. Credit: A Kahn 2013

The main reef we were studying on this trip was on Fraser Ridge. If you drained the water from the SoG, you’d be able to see the ridge and the reef about 14 km away from Vancouver. Fraser Ridge reef is too deep for us to study directly by scuba (150 to 180 meters deep), so instead we study it with the help of the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) ROPOS. ROPOS is piloted and run by the Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility (CSSF) and functions as our eyes and hands underwater.


ROPOS, our eyes and hands underwater. Credit: A Kahn 2013

With those eyes and hands, we studied the energy use and water pumping capacity of the glass sponges that build the reef. Glass sponges are really amazing animals—they can move huge amounts of water through their bodies, which are basically modified to be amazing filters. 9,000 liters of water can pass through a single sponge osculum (the “chimney” that water is released from by the sponge) each day! And from that, the glass sponges can feed on tiny particles, especially bacteria. This is pretty unique among animals—most other animals that feed on particles suspended in the water (called “suspension feeders”) can only capture particles that are larger by 10 times or more.  We did a lot of great science while on board the ship, and I’m now at the field station in Bamfield, British Columbia, to work with other sponges.  We will all spend the winter back in Edmonton working up the samples and data collected from this trip.

Glass sponge reef

Glass sponges in a reef–check out all of those oscula! Credit: CSSF 2011

I’m happy to be a part of SEOF because I can feel connected to other folks who are near the ocean full-time, can ask questions about logistics before I arrive, etc.  I’m the regional representative for Alberta and in this post wanted to show that being far from the ocean does not mean that we cannot have access to marine animals or study ocean-related issues.  Logistics may be more tricky than driving down to beach for the weekend to do some intertidal sampling, but it’s definitely doable and totally worthwhile.  Contact me if you have questions about the reefs or if you’re in Alberta and have questions about how you can get involved in the marine science community across Canada.

To learn more about the reefs, check out these videos, compiled by Sameena Sherman, a student from our lab:

River plumes and extra terrestrial food. Or, why the Strait of Georgia can support so much life

by Amanda Kahn

First of all, this post is about extra, or supplemental, terrestrial (meaning land-based, not ocean-based) food–not extra-terrestrial food, which is material for other blogs.

The Strait of Georgia lies between Vancouver Island, where Bamfield is (on its west coast), and mainland British Columbia.  It is a major waterway for ships and is heavily influenced and used by humans through recreation, diving, boating, tide-pooling, discharges, etc., but it’s also a food- and nutrient-rich habitat for all sorts of animals.  It gets a near-equal input of carbon (a measure of food since carbon is necessary for all living things) from ocean-driven plankton blooms as from land-based sources (Johannessen et al. 2003).  I took some photos of one of the major sources of land-based carbon on a recent flight back to Edmonton from Bamfield.

Fraser River plume

Looking out from Vancouver Island toward the mainland, two light-colored plumes in the water indicate something different about the water there. Indeed, these colors arise from sediment and plankton blooms in water coming from the land. In the top right is a large plume that extended far beyond this photo. It comes from the Fraser River. Credit: A Kahn 2013

In the picture above, you can see different colors in the water. The colors result from suspended sediments and blooms of plankton arising from the water’s interactions with land. Everywhere near the coast gets inputs from land, whether from rocks, sediments, and sand right along the coast becoming suspended or dissolved in the water or from rivers flowing in with suspended sediments, nutrients, phytoplankton, and bacteria from farther inland. The Fraser River is the largest source of freshwater and sediments to the Strait of Georgia–up to 73% of the freshwater and 64% of particles (Johannessen et al. 2003). It is responsible for the plume filling much of the strait, in the upper right of the photo above. Near land, there can also be mixing, as shown in the bottom left of the photo above and zoomed in on the photo below.

Nearshore sediment

Looking south, the Fraser River plume (left) and the mixing near islands near Vancouver Island (right) create different-colored plumes of water. Credit: A Kahn 2013

So why does the Fraser River plume extend so much farther than the non-river areas? While part of it involves the obvious water movement of rivers, there’s plenty of wave action on coastlines. It’s related to something I mentioned before–that the Fraser River is the source of 73% of the freshwater coming into the Strait of Georgia. Fresh water is less dense than salt water so it floats on the surface.  Its different density also means it doesn’t mix very well with seawater so it ends up spreading out along the surface of the water.  If you put an instrument in the water that measures salinity, such as a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth sensor), you’ll see a drop in salinity from the river.

The salinity drops considerably within the plume, indicative of the freshwater coming in from the Fraser River.  Credit: Ocean Networks Canada, via Flickr.

The water that comes in with the Fraser River is full of suspended sediments and plankton, turning the water a different color. If you look out on the Strait of Georgia from land during spring and early summer, the peak of the “freshet” (when snowmelt swells the Fraser River and creates the strongest plume), you’ll see water that is green or murky brown relative to more oceanic water. Sediments from the river settle slowly but bring in with them macronutrients (especially silica; Treguer et al. 2013) and micronutrients such as iron–both of which are needed for plankton to grow. As plankton grow, they turn the water’s color from deep blue to a brown, green, or milky blue, depending on the dominant plankton types.

Water color changes dramatically near the edge of the Fraser River plume.  Credit: Kevin Bartlett; via Ocean Networks Canada and Flickr

As plankton grow, they form the basis of a food web for grazers and predators. These terrestrial inputs of food are a big reason why coastal areas have higher concentrations of plankton, and as a result higher numbers and diversity of animals, compared to open ocean areas.  To learn more about research on the Fraser River plume, check out this post from Ocean Networks Canada.

Active Pass

Active Pass. Credit: A Kahn 2013

Johannessen, S. ., R. . Macdonald, and D. . Paton. 2003. A sediment and organic carbon budget for the greater Strait of Georgia. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 56:845–860.

Tréguer, P. J., and C. L. De La Rocha. 2013. The World Ocean Silica Cycle. Annual Review of Marine Science 5:477–501.

Tides and Trails Market now owned by Huu-ay-aht First Nations

by Amanda Kahn

The Tides & Trails Market, the shop on the east side of Bamfield inlet (same side as the marine station), is under new ownership.  The Huu-ay-aht First Nations have purchased it and the cafe next to it.  The market carries a lot of fresh produce and is a convenient walk from the marine station.  It is also the first property in Bamfield purchased by the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, though they run other businesses such as the Pachena Bay Campground and in forestry.  I stopped in at the cafe this summer and the burger was tasty (and the fries were delicious!).  They serve daily specials that are sometimes so local that they’ve come right off of someone’s fishing boat.  Read more about the new ownership (as of April 2013) and check out the Tides & Trails Market and/or the cafe if you need groceries or a warm meal cooked by someone other-than-yourself while doing your research in Bamfield.

Tides and Trails Market

Catch the morning low tide, revive with a warm coffee or an ice cream.  Credit: A Kahn 2012

Journey to the Sea of Glass

by Amanda Kahn

Ever wanted to ride in a submarine?  See marine life such as reefs, sharks, fish, crabs, and whatever else you happen to pass by?  Then check out this contest being put on by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), BC chapter.  One lucky winner gets to go out for 90 minutes in a sub to see the glass sponge reefs in the Strait of Georgia on either October 15 or October 16.  Entrants must be 19 or older and a resident of Canada–check out the website for more details and click the image below to enter!

Bamfield Inn: Then and Now

by Amanda Kahn

The Bamfield Inn is a beautiful inn, also called the Willow Inn, that closed its doors in 2002 to undergo renovations under new ownership.  There is a lot of local back-story regarding the owner of the inn, why it fell into disrepair, how the locals feel about it, etc. that I am not going to talk about.  It is not my place–I am not a resident and I was not present while that took place.  An internet search, however, provides a just view into what the Inn looked like in 1993, compared to how it appears in August 2013.

The Inn, pictured here in 1993. Credit: halflions blog

Bamfield Inn 2013

The Bamfield Inn today. Credit: A. Kahn 2013

The inn is not currently open for business, as the broken windows reveal.  However, the building itself is beautiful and some of the changes since 1993 have brought in some of the unique characteristics of Bamfield.  I love the front fence built from driftwood, the mossy roof that divulges that Bamfield is a temperate rain forest, the covered patio where you can enjoy a view of the inlet even on cold days, and the still-unchanged sign for the inn, complete with a brightly painted fish.  It is wonderful to look from BMSC toward the inn across the inlet and imagine its greatness when it inevitably re-opens someday in the future.  Several other inns are open for business in Bamfield and are also spectacular and unique–I just don’t have pictures of them–so keep on the lookout for them and the iconic Bamfield Inn if you’re planning to have family or friends visit you while you’re doing work/taking classes in BMSC.

Recipes from Bamfield: Peanut butter crackle-top cookies

by Amanda Kahn

I…I don’t even have a photo of these cookies that can go along with this post–they were all eaten so quickly.  Eric Clelland, the very capable research coordinator at BMSC, not only is great at coordinating research but, as it turns out, is a masterful cookie baker.  Eric brought in a tub of these soft, peanut buttery cookies and they were gone within the day.  Really, within the morning.  I am partly responsible.

Peanut Butter Crackle-Top Cookies:

3/4 cup margarine (175ml)
3/4 cup granulated sugar (175ml)
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed (175ml)
1 egg, slightly beaten
3/4 cup peanut butter (175ml)
1 tsp vanilla (5ml)
1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour (425ml)
1/2 tsp baking soda (2ml)
1/2 tsp salt (2ml)

Cream margarine and sugar together, add the egg and vanilla, then mix in the peanut butter.

Mix the flour, baking soda and salt thoroughly.

Add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture (a little at a time), cutting the flour into the mixture with the edge of a wooden spoon. When completely mixed, cover and chill in frig for 20-30 mins.

Preheat oven to 350-375 F (180-190 C).  Form dough into 1″ balls (about 2 1/2 tsp or 15ml per ball). Roll in sugar if desired–Eric didn’t and they were delicious. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350-375 F (180-190 C) for 12-15 mins.

Yield: About 5 dozen. Recipe can be doubled (except for the soda and salt).