coral reef

According to local marine science, the coral reef shouldn’t exist there. Image: Pixabay

South African contributes to discovery of Canada’s first known coral reef

A deep sea ecologist from South Africa and her team have recently discovered Canada’s only known live coral reef.

coral reef

According to local marine science, the coral reef shouldn’t exist there. Image: Pixabay

Folling a tip from the local First Nation, Cherisse Du Preez and her team were led to the discovery of Canada’s only known live coral reef.

In collaboration with the Kitasoo Xai’xais and Heiltsuk First Nations, Du Preez embarked on a quest in 2021 to locate the elusive Lophelia coral reef.

Their efforts bore fruit on their final dive for the expedition, revealing a thriving ecosystem 200 meters below the surface.

The reef is situated about 500 kilometres northwest of Vancouver in the Finlayson Channel off Canada.

“You light it up and you realise you’re the first person to ever see this, beautiful pinks and purples and yellows, crevasses, mounts,” Du Preez told the Kimberley Bulletin.

“And once you see past the corals, you realise that there are other animals on them,” she said.

She went on to say: ““Then the movement starts and you start to see the eels and the octopus or the rock fish swimming in and out. And even when we tilt the camera up you can see the schools of fish on top. Everywhere you look is life.”

Lophelia coral reef defies science

Du Preez notes that all the science and rationale in the world says the coral reef shouldn’t exist there.

Originally from South Africa, Du Preez was always immersed in the marine environment. From an early age she was a competitive surfer and diver, specialising in shark and whale diving.

This sparked her interests in becoming a marine biologist.

Du Preez is now the head of the deepsea ecology program with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. She is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Victoria.

She says Canada’s Pacific coast is “globally unique,” with nature and wildlife that is not found anywhere else.

Area closed to fishing

Last week the Fisheries and Oceans department responded to the groundbreaking discovery by imposing an indefinite closure on the area. This is to protect the reef from commercial and recreational fishing.

The reef is now the most northern known coral reef in the entire Pacific Ocean, the department said.

Fisheries manager for Heiltsuk Nation’s integrated resource management department, Mike Reid, was equally excited by the find.

He said his nation always knew that something was supporting the fish in that part of the Channel, but didn’t know what it was.

“Lophelia reef is very important to the ecosystem, to the biodiversity of that specific area, it adds to the overall health of that area,” Reid added.