Conservation gets artistic with new underwater installation in Howe Sound

Vancouver Courier

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Ocean conservation got an artistic touch last week with the installation of an unusual artificial reef in the waters of Howe Sound.

The reef, installed by Ocean Wise Research July 25, is made up of sculptures designed by art students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the University of B.C.

One of the nine sculptures that will make up an artificial reef meant to provide habitat for Rockfish. Photo courtesy Ocean Wise Research

The sculptures, which are made out of clay and concrete, are meant to provide habitat for threatened rockfish. Howe Sound contains 11 designated rockfish conservation areas and that are home to 14 rockfish species.

There are nine sculptures in total. Four were delivered on July 25 by barge to Porteau Cove provincial park and then lowered into place with the help of commercial divers.

The pieces were designed to attract rockfish, whose population decreased dramatically before the introduction of catch limits and management actions in 1986, and has not yet rebounded.

One of the nine sculptures that will make up an artificial reef meant to provide habitat for Rockfish. Photo courtesy Ocean Wise Research

“Rockfish are homebodies,” said Amanda Weltman, a field research and data assistant, who took on the project two years ago when she started working with Howe Sound Research and Conservation.

“We want to see whether this artificial habitat will attract rockfish and encourage them to stay in the area.

“Despite the fact that some species are threatened, rockfish are often illegally fished. Since they mature late, we’d like to see whether providing them with habitat specifically designed for them in a place where fishing is banned allows them to live longer, achieve maturity and reproduce in greater numbers.”

One of the nine sculptures that will make up an artificial reef meant to provide habitat for Rockfish. Photo courtesy Ocean Wise Research

Weltman said that taking an artistic approach rather than simply installing cinder blocks on the ocean floor was a way trying to engage the public in the subject of rockfish conservation.

“We hope that over the months and years, these sculptures will increase biodiversity,” she said.

The first four sculptures were installed in a spot that’s popular with scuba divers and already features artificial reefs. In addition to providing rockfish habitat, they are also meant to encourage citizen science.

Divers are invited to explore the waters around the sculptures and report their observations on numbers, types and behaviours of fish online to researchers.

The remaining five sculptures will be submerged at a later date in waters off private land that won’t be accessible to recreational divers.

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