By Grant Warkentin
Source: Campbell River Mirror 
If clay pots are good enough for ancient wine, they’re good enough for undersea wildlife.
“They found clay pots 2,000 years old in Egyptian shipwrecks and the wine’s still good in them,” says Finn Ronne, local realtor and Rotary Club member, recently back from a three-month vacation on Borocay, a tiny island in the Philippines.
Ronne helped the Borocay Rotary Club raise money to pay for about 60 “reef balls,” specially-designed concrete spheres designed to take the place of coral reefs. Most of Borocay’s natural reefs were destroyed long ago, by fishermen using dynamite and arsenic to get at the fish hiding in the reefs.
Now, the island’s main industry is tourism and diving, which Ronne hopes to help thrive by helping restore the reef.
Last year, Ronne raised money locally to purchase the balls and on his trip back to Borocay this winter, it was his goal to see the project completed.
However, Ronne learned, the concrete reef balls weren’t doing too well. Their composition was not working to attract plant and animal life, largely because a crucial chemical needed to process concrete was unavailable in the Philippines. Concrete made without the chemical has a high pH, which repels rather than attracts plant and animal life.
“They decided to go with clay. I thought, what are you going to do with clay?” Ronne said.
Research by a biologist showed that clay was the perfect medium for attracting plant and animal life.
“Within a week, it had growth on it, then it had a fish living in it, a fish living under it, a fish guarding around it,” Ronne said.
Confident clay would be a good material for the artificial reef project, the Borocay Rotary Club decided to go shopping. They found a small village on one of the larger, nearby islands which had pottery as its main industry. The Rotary Club instructed them to make about 60 giant, clay pots, textured to attract plant wildlife and with holes and openings on the sides for fish to swim through. The holes also allow the tidal currents to pass through the pots without budging them from their spots at the bottom of the ocean.
“It’s the biggest order they’ve ever had in their lives – when I paid them the money their eyes were bugging out,” Ronne said. “It was great for the community – you could tell Christmas was going to be good that year.”
Ronne said there were some challenges working out the logistics and the politics of sinking five dozen giant clay pots off the coast of Borocay. But it all worked out in the end, he said.
“Everything kind of came together that way,” he said.
The project attracted all local media and media from nearby islands. One of the guests at the sinking of the first few reef pots was Boracay’s fisheries director, a local politician, who pledged to buy 100 more reef pots to restore the island’s natural environment.
“Basically it was a huge success there,” Ronne said.
The reef is expected to take between one to five years to fill out. Ronne said the artificial reef is already becoming a tourist attraction – from the bottom of a glass-bottomed boat, the names of Campbell River residents who donated to the project can be clearly seen.
Ronne said he plans to visit the island in the future to see how the reefs develop and said he was glad as part of the Rotary Club to be able to help organize in a service project.