More Biofouling "Casualties" to be Expected


Published Aug 29, 2017 2:49 AM by Wendy Laursen

In March this year, the bulk carrier DL Marigold became the world's first biofouling “casualty.”

The vessel was ordered from both New Zealand and Fijian waters for being an invasive species threat, after divers discovered dense fouling of barnacles and tube worms on the ship's hull. It was the first time an international ship had been ordered to leave a New Zealand port because of biofouling.  

As well as new regulations, New Zealand is evaluating new technologies to help in the battle against invasive species. A new technology with the ability to revolutionize the detection of invasive marine pests is now being trialed at 14 laboratories around the world.

The global experiment follows an international workshop organized by the Cawthron Institute and attended by 30 experts from 16 research organizations, keen to work out how to apply the technology which will speed up the identification of invasive marine species.

The technology is called High Throughput Sequencing or HTS. It identifies species within environmental samples, not by how they look, but by recognizing characteristic strands (sequences) of DNA and RNA. New HTS technologies can sequence hundreds of thousands of strands of DNA and RNA at once so that many more samples can be processed and many more species identified in less time. Looking for molecular signatures in the water using HTS could lead to much faster – and cheaper - detection of marine pests.

New Zealand’s native coastal ecosystems and marine-based industries are particularly vulnerable to impacts from foreign invasive species. The numbers of foreign marine plants and animals in New Zealand have skyrocketed since the 1960s, largely due to increased global shipping. 

In New Zealand, fouling was found to be responsible for about 70 percent of aquatic invasive species, compared to just three percent from ballast water. 

In response, new regulations, effective from May next year will require all international vessels to have a clean hull.

New Zealand is not alone in its concern.

Like ballast water, biofouling is considered one of the main vectors for bioinvasions. At a presentation at the World Ocean Council's Sustainable Ocean Summit late last year, IMO technical officer Dr Theofanis Karayannis suggested that hull biofouling could be just as serious a problem for the spread of invasive aquatic species as ballast water. 

The IMO is also moving its attention to hull biofouling with a new global project, the GloFouling Partnership. The Partnership is a collaboration between the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the IMO, and it has been given the go-ahead and allocated $6.9 million.

The project will focus on the implementation of the IMO Guidelines for the control and management of ships’ biofouling. The Guidelines (resolution MEPC.207(62)) are intended to provide a globally consistent approach to the management of biofouling. They were adopted by the Marine Environment Protection Committee in July 2011.

For now, the Guidelines are not mandatory, and, for now, they are just one of the biofouling management protocols in operation as countries, such as New Zealand develop unilateral approaches. 

California is also adopting unilateral regulations. Earlier this month, the California State Lands Commission's biofouling management regulations were approved by California's Office of Administrative Law, and they are now set to become effective on October 1, 2017. The requirements mean that, from January 1, ships will have to have an active biofouling management plan and associated paperwork.

 In American waters, hull biofouling accounted for about 35 percent of aquatic invasive species compared to 20 percent from ballast. More than 100 square miles of hull surface area arrives in the U.S. every year from overseas, and just one highly-fouled vessel can carry up to 90 tons of growth – including undesirable species such as the green crab, the zebra mussel, the European fan worm, the Northern Pacific sea star and a variety of seaweeds, sponges and sea squirts.

“The Californian requirements provide a pathway for other port states and the IMO to follow,” says Dr Rob Hilliard, biofouling consultant and principle at Intermarine Consulting. “They demonstrate how to make key parts of the current voluntary IMO guidelines mandatory. This includes forcing vessel operators to provide thought, planning and management information regarding access and cleaning of hull niches and internal seawater pipework.

“The rules come after several years and more than three iterations of proposed rule-making efforts and associated industry consultation, with the State eventually settling on a set of provisions that make the voluntary IMO guidelines a mandatory requirement for any vessel over 300gt that visit Californian ports.”

Momentum is growing, and many in the industry envisage the IMO working towards mandatory biofouling management globally. The DL Marigold may not be alone for long.