By Sean Graham
Howe Sound is a deep fjord north of Vancouver that has been described as the city’s “playground for sailing, diving, camping, hiking, and a host of other recreational activities.” It is also home to a reef that was thought to be extinct. Glass sponges, which build their skeletons out of silicon dioxide, exist around the world, but reef-forming glass sponge is only known to occur in British Columbia, with the reef in Howe Sound being the only known one in water shallower than 40 metres.
While that depth is challenging for divers, it is possible for humans to visit the reef as part of efforts to preserve this vital ecosystem. The reef is an important habitat for rockfish species that are under threat while also filtering millions of gallons of water on a daily basis. Because of its tremendous ecological value, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has established a marine refuge that, among other protection efforts, has eliminated commercial fishing that could damage the reef. These protections are the result of years of research and advocacy by citizen-scientists who have championed the reef’s conservation.
Those efforts are profiled in the new documentary Moonless Oasis, which is currently available on CBC Gem. Following Hamish Tweed and his team of divers and researchers, the film highlights their passion and commitment to better understand and preserve the reef. Taking the audience over 200 feet under the surface, the film offers spectacular images of this underwater ecosystem while also highlighting the threats to its survival.
In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with filmmakers Nate Slaco and Bryce Zimmerman about Moonless Oasis. We talk about the glass sponge reef, the challenges of shooting underwater, and importance of capturing the reef on film. We also discuss the efforts to preserve the reef, whether this is a nature or human story, and why the reef is an important national story.
Sean Graham is a historian with Parks Canada, an Adjunct Professor at Carleton University, and a contributing editor with Activehistory.ca