For years, I have been meticulously mapping and filming glass sponge bioherms from the surface of Howe Sound using a drop camera designed and built by Glen Dennison, MLSS Director. Days were spent to create a high resolution bathymetric map for the site of interest. Then hours to drift across the surface with Glen’s drop camera hanging below, as we patiently awaited the sight of glass sponge on the otherwise mostly barren seafloor.
Glen had been doing this work for years before I arrived and had discovered several bioherms throughout Howe Sound. I believe it is safe to say that no human has seen more of what lies beneath the waters of Howe Sound than Glen!
Even with all the seafloor he has covered to date, we are still discovering new glass sponge gardens and bioherms in Howe Sound. The bioherm recently discovered off Anvil Island in 2014, I had the pleasure of not only being a part of, but received the pleasure of it being named the Clayton Bioherm! We are constantly reminded of how little we know, and have seen, of Howe Sound.
After observing glass sponge bioherms for countless hours from the surface (often in black and white), I received the opportunity to see them first hand (and in colour!). Aquatica Submarines Inc., a company with whom MLSS collaborates, generously brought some MLSS volunteer BOD members along for a ride in their newly crafted submarine, Stingray!
Our target was the Kelvin Grove bioherm. We quickly descended over 250 feet to the edge of the bioherm and were greeted by a sculpin that had stowed away on the sub from the dock. Moments later, we saw our first glass sponge reflecting back a yellowish glow. As we continued along our path, sponge density increased and soon we were facing a wall of towering glass sponges. The sight was awe-inspiring. I had never before seen living glass sponge so close and so clear; it was incredibly beautiful.
Fish darted to and fro, occasionally stopping to feeding off of the arrow worms and amphipods gathered in the light of the submarine. Comb jellies and hydroids danced in front of us as they made their way through the bioherm. As we continued along through the bioherm we saw squat lobsters in the silt and a crab perched on top of a crown of sponge.
It was so peaceful down in the bioherm, no rolling waves crashing on our side or noisy boats screaming passed. For the first time since we began our descent, I looked at my watch … over an hour had passed! It felt as though we had only been down there for a few moments and it was already time to surface. We snapped a few more photos and said our farewells to the Kelvin Grove bioherm and began to surface. The dark waters around us turned a luminescent green as we neared the surface, moments later popping up to the surface to see the snow-capped mountains and islands of Howe Sound.
Even hours after the dive, I could not wipe the smile off my face. It was such an incredible opportunity to journey to the seafloor and move amongst the other critters that call the glass sponge bioherms of Howe Sound home. I am so honoured and grateful for the opportunity that Aquatica and their amazing team provided us: a first-ever dive, first human eyes upon the Kelvin Grove bioherm in their incredible Stingray submarine.