Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents MPA

Location

The Endeavour area of the Juan de Fuca Ridge is a seismically active area of seafloor formation and hydrothermal venting. The Endeavour Hydrothermal Vent area is located 250 km offshore from Vancouver Island, 2250 meters below the ocean’s surface.

The map shows the locations of the five main hydrothermal vent fields and smaller sites of flow.

The area is bounded by a line drawn from a point at 47°54′N, 129°02′W, from there west to a point at 47°54′N, 129°08′W, from there north to a point at 48°01′N, 129°08′W, from there east to a point at 48°01′N, 129°02′W, and from there south to the point of beginning.

Ecosystem

The Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents Marine Protected Area (MPA) lies in water 2,250 metres deep, 250 kilometres southwest of Vancouver Island. As part of the Juan de Fuca Ridge system, the Endeavour Segment is an active seafloor-spreading zone where tectonic plates diverge and new oceanic crust is extruded onto the seafloor. In these zones, cold sea water percolates downward through the crust where it is heated by the underlying molten lava, eventually emerging through the seafloor as buoyant plumes of particle-rich, superheated fluid. The five known vent fields on the Endeavour Segment are separated along the ridge from one another by about two kilometres. Their associated plumes rise rapidly about 300 metres into the overlying water column.

Hydrothermal vents in the Endeavour area consist of large hot black smokers, chimney-like structures and surrounding lower temperature sites. The fields span a wide range of hydrothermal venting conditions characterized by different water temperatures and salt content, sulphide structure morphologies, and animal abundance. Temperatures associated with black smokers are typically in excess of 300℃. Formation of the large polymetallic sulphide chimneys takes place when dissolved minerals and metallic ions carried upward by the smokers precipitate upon contact with the cold sea water. Cooler waters below 115℃ on the seafloor and along the flanks of the chimneys support an abundance of flora and fauna. This rich ecosystem is supported by microbes whose life processes are fueled by the chemical energy from the emerging fluids in the hydrothermal vents.

Hydrothermal venting systems host one of the highest levels of microbial diversity and animal abundance on earth. The deep ocean near the Endeavour area normally only supports sparse animal abundance of about twenty worms and brittlestars per square metre. In the diffuse vent flows around the sulphide structures, these abundances can range up to half a million animals per square metre. There is an amazing abundance of life in concentrated areas around the vents surrounded by a veritable desert in the deep oceans.

Globally, hydrothermal venting systems foster numerous unique species of animals. There are some 60 distinct species native to the Juan de Fuca Ridge. Many of these species are the first in the world to be identified. Hydrothermal vents at Endeavour are home to 12 species that do not exist anywhere else in the world.

Since its discovery in 1982, the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents have been a focus of research by Canadian and international scientists. The manned US submersible Alvin and the unmanned vehicle Jason have undertaken a number of missions in the area. Joint Canada-US studies have made use of the Canadian ROPOS (Remotely Operated Platform for Ocean Sciences). Fisheries and Oceans Canada has conducted extensive acoustic and moored instrument programs in the area since 1985.

The Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents Marine Protected Area has been designated to ensure the protection of these hydrothermal vents, and the unique ecosystems associated with them. The Regulation to establish the Marine Protected Area prohibits the removal, disturbance, damage or destruction of the venting structures or the marine organisms associated with them. The Regulation allows for scientific research that will contribute to the understanding of the hydrothermal vents ecosystem.

Management & Conservation

The Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents (EHV) were designated as the first Marine Protected Area under Canada’s Oceans Act in 2003. The designation of the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents as a MPA provides for the long-term protection of this biologically diverse and productive ecosystem.

The MPA management:

  • ensures that human activities contribute to the conservation, protection and understanding of the natural diversity, productivity and dynamism of the ecosystem
  • ensures that responsible procedures are followed (e.g. sampling, instrument deployment and retrieval, data sharing, appropriate debris disposal).
  • provides research for the conservation, protection and understanding of the area.
  • contributes to public awareness of the values of marine ecosystems and the need to protect them.

The area has been a popular research site for more than 20 years. Scientists come to study unique biota, venting processes and chemistry, as well as seismic and magmatic activity. An organism from this site holds the current record for the upper temperature limit to life: 121℃. Researchers strive to uncover secrets of the formation of Earth’s tectonic plates and chemosynthetic food webs. They also seek a potential glimpse of the origins of life on our planet, and perhaps its origins on others.

Endeavor MPA management plan

Endeavour hydrothermal vents Marine Protected Area regulations (SOR/2003-87) are found on the Justice Laws website.

Activity Applications

In Marine Protected Areas established under the Oceans Act, it is generally prohibited to carry out any activity that disturbs, damages, destroys or removes any living marine organism or any part of its habitat or is likely to do so. Despite this, there are exceptions to the prohibitions. Activities that may be allowed to occur in the Marine Protected Area are listed under the ‘exception’ section of the Marine Protected Area regulations.

In addition, for most Marine Protected Areas, certain types of activities (e.g., scientific research and monitoring, habitat restoration, commercial marine tourism, and educational activities) may be allowed to occur within the MPA if a proponent submits an activity plan to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

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