The archipelago of Haida Gwaii sits 62 miles off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, where members of the Haida nation have lived for millennia and currently make up half of the islands’ 5000-person population . The Haida Nation’s territory consists of the islands of Haida Gwaii, land in southeast Alaska, and the surrounding ocean waters. It is within these waters, 112 miles west of Haida Gwaii, that the 210-foot-long research vessel E/V Nautilus is currently exploring Ecologically and Biologically Significant seamounts in partnership with the Haida Nation , Oceana Canada , Fisheries and Oceans Canada , and Ocean Networks Canada .
Three dormant submarine volcanoes that were active during the most recent ice age exist within the SGaan Kinghlas-Bowie Seamount Marine Protected Area . With its apex only 80 feet below sea level, the S G aan K inghlas-Bowie seamount towers 2 miles above the seafloor and supports uniquely diverse marine communities consisting of deep-sea corals, sponges , and numerous species of fish . Considered " Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems ", the S G aan K inghlas-Bowie, Dellwood, and Explorer seamounts that the E/V Nautilus is currently exploring also carry enormous cultural importance for the Haida people. According to Haida Nation president Kil tlaats’gaa Peter Lantin, S G aan K inghlas is one of the many supernatural beings that made their homes around Haida Gwaii and whose stories have been passed down through oral tradition; S G aan K inghlas means "Supernatural Being Looking Outwards" in the Haida language.
Caption: Widow rockfish ( Sebastes entomelas ) schooling above the seamount summit. A large Alaskan Ronquil ( Bathymaster caeruleofasciatus ) in the bottom right. A large Yelloweye rockfish ( Sebastes ruberrimus ) swimming away mid-photo. The SK-B summit is shallow enough to support forests of brown algae (Phaeophyceae; including acid kelp ( Desmarestia ligulata )) and dense carpets of anemones, zoanthids, encrusting, demosponges. Location: SK-B Seamount. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The Haida people have long served as environmental stewards within this part of their traditional territory. As an act of reconciliation by the Canadian government, they have co-managed the S G aan K inghlas-Bowie Seamount Marine Protected Area to protect the marine environment and natural resources therein. Most recently, after a decade of effort, the Council of the Haida Nation successfully ended the black cod fishery at S G aan K inghlas by demonstrating that fragile corals and sponges are damaged when currents, winds, and waves drag bottom-contact traps along the seafloor .
The high-quality live feeds and images from the E/V Nautilus’ remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dives are being shared on the Council of Haida Nation social media platforms and through public viewings, captivating the imaginations of young people and elders alike within the Haida Nation. Of special importance to the Haida people, is the inclusion of Jaasaljuus (JJ) Yakgujanaas on this expedition, a marine biology intern of Haida heritage. Not only does JJ have scientific training (she holds a B.S. in marine biology) and the Haida oral tradition, but she is one of only a few Haida people to have visited these seamounts.
The current E/V Nautilus expedition aims to collect the very first environmental and biological data from the S G aan K inghlas-Bowie Seamount Marine Protected Area. At the Dellwood Seamount, autonomous sensors will be installed to collect oceanographic data and monitor how the habitat changes over time. Ultimately, the Haida Nation hopes to use these data to inform future conservation policies and effectively co-manage natural resources impacted by climate change and shipping – two issues that the Haida Nation is heavily involved in.
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