A unique species of marine sponge has been collected from a series of Ocean Tracking Network moorings near Halifax, Nova Scotia. OTN technicians discovered hundreds of sponges densely settled and growing on moorings during a routine service trip of the Halifax Line — OTN’s longest acoustic tracking array, which includes 184 bottom-moored stations over 200 kilometres from Halifax to the Scotian Shelf break.
The species was identified as the Russian Hat sponge (Vazella pourtalesi) by Dr. Ellen Kenchington, a research scientist with Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). Dr. Kenchington studies Russian Hats through the EU Horizon 2020-funded SponGES project, a scientific initiative conducting research on deep-sea sponges to improve the preservation and sustainable exploitation of Atlantic marine ecosystems.
On December 7, 2016 OTN technicians, accompanied by DFO personnel, embarked on a trip to collect samples for further analysis. The majority of offshore moorings contained hundreds of Russian Hat sponges, which were collected and brought to DFO – Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO). Two mooring floats containing live samples were also brought to BIO.
This finding, that led to a partnering between OTN and the SponGES project, will help understand species distribution and assist with conservation efforts of marine sponges and their habitats.
The Russian Hat samples collected from OTN’s moorings will be used to study the genetic diversity, structure, growth rates, reproductive biology, recruitment and connectivity of this unique species of sponges which form dense grounds in the Emerald Basin off the southern tip of Nova Scotia.
This valuable find will provide an opportunity to uncover unknown information about Russian Hat sponges. Additionally, collected samples will serve to increase researchers’ understanding of how these sponges adapt to ocean climate change and human-caused impacts such as pollution.