Crew from Cold Water Divers help Grade 9 students from Claremont High School onboard, to drop reef balls into the waters of the Victoria International Marina. Kristyn Anthony/VICTORIA NEWS

Claremont students bring marine life back to Victoria International Marina

Class project built reef balls, to drop in local waters and attract fish habitats

The waters surrounding Victoria International Marina have long been considered a lost cause, polluted beyond measure, but students from Claremont Secondary School have been working on a project to rebuild fish habitats and attract marine life back to the area.

On Thursday, grade 9 students gathered on the pier to drop four reef balls into the water, the final stage of a project they began as part of their Institute for Global Solutions class.

“The kids have been involved from the beginning,” says science teacher Joanna Linger, describing the process of building each ball in a mould, compacting the concrete and allowing them time to cure since the project began back in February.

“It really sparked kind of a new topic in our classroom,” she says, as the students took the opportunity to learn what artificial reef balls do, and where else in the world they can be found.

The kids got really excited about bringing some of this marine life back to our Inner Harbour, she added.

RELATED: Victoria Harbour most polluted on B.C. coast: study

The initiative was presented to the students by staff of the marina, and Burt Minter, of Artificial Reef Structures, who designed and dropped some 600 reef balls in the waters off Sidney pier.

Micro eco-systems develop around the environmentally-friendly concrete structures — each weighing 300 lbs. — and attracting fish, phytoplankton and other marine life.

The results are two-fold; the surface makes for a breeding ground where sea plants can grow and feed smaller fish, and they also serve as shelter protecting them from larger predators.

“These reef balls have a really specific cool design,” says grade 9 student Jordan Vearer, who learned how the pollution in the harbour has driven away so much marine life.

Each reef ball is approximately 3 ft. in diameter, but the combined surface is able to provide habitat to over 100,000 fish.

“It’s a really, really cool experience to be actually doing something that’s going to make a difference,” she says.

With the assistance of Victoria-based Cold Water Divers, Vearer and classmate Connor North climbed aboard a research vessel to guide the balls to their destination, ten metres offshore.

RELATED: Oak Bay High students help researching Victoria Harbour waters

Local residents stopped to watch, remarking how pleased they were to see the fruits of the students’ labour, saying they’ve already seen wildlife return, as the area continues to be redeveloped.

Now submerged, the students will be able to monitor the progress of each ball with the aid of an underwater camera linked to an online portal they can access from their laptops. The class has chronicled the process from the beginning and using the data they receive from the reef balls, will make short documentaries to look back on the project.

“We can track it all the way from our grade 9 year to our grade 12 year,” Vearer says.

kristyn.anthony@vicnews.com

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