Everything in our world is connected more than we think, and every little change can have a detrimental impact. Biofouling is the damage done to man-made structures that is caused by the unwanted reproduction of certain organisms (5). There are different forms of fouling, but biofouling specifically is fouling committed by living things. This process involves microorganisms and macroorganisms, and it is happening in many places around the world. According to Biofouling: lessons from nature, biofouling can be present in humans. Foreign objects such as implants or sensors cause bacteria and white-blood cells to become violent towards it, making the person more prone to diseases (1). Marine biofouling is the larger problem, however. Algae, bacteria, and barnacles are all organisms that culminate negative effects, and they accomplish this feat by attaching themselves to different ships and oceanic devices and damaging these objects (3).
Biofouling is a huge problem. The overproduction of fouling organisms such as bacteria and barnacles on ship hulls greatly reduce the energy efficiency and the speed the ships can go. Fouled ships use about 40% more fuel than a non-fouled ship. The 40% extra usage of fuel exponentially throws money away, and it is estimated that about $22 billion dollars could be saved if anti-fouling plans are put into action. The chemicals and adaptations used by these organisms cause corrosion on the surfaces of objects. A “biofilm” is produced that coats the object the organism is adhered to. This material poses a problem when it coats machines that conduct important tests in the area. The corrosion alters the collected data and does not allow researchers to receive accurate results. In order to repair these machines, millions of dollars must be spent on materials and labor. Also, the biofilm corrodes pipes and contaminates the wastewater they are transporting (1). Not only does biofouling drastically affects humans, it also causes complications for the rest of nature. Since most of these fouling-organisms are attached to ships or things that travel, they are constantly being brought to foreign waters. Due to these invasive species being introduced to ecosystems, the ecology of those infected areas are now being altered or destroyed. Biofouling disrupts the balance of life, such as disturbing the food chain or draining oxygen levels in the water, which ultimately harms the environment as a whole (6).
Biofouling affects everyone in indirect ways. The increase usage of energy and fuel on ships raises the pricing of these nonrenewable resources and limits economic growth of certain areas. It affects the environment and increases the amount of polluted air. The increase in greenhouse gases also creates acid rain, corroding ancient monuments and buildings. Also, biofouling on pipes contaminates drinking water, making it unsafe to drink. Not only that, but the infrastructures of the aquaculture communities are damaged, reducing the efficiency of water exchange and disease control. Because of this, biofouling begins to discourage the usage of aquaculture due to the money needed to help maintain the effects of these fouling organisms. All of this indirectly influences the world around us and the state our economy and health are in (4).
Many associations are trying to come up with ways to maintain or even prevent biofouling from occurring. For example, the Office of Naval Research says that they are investing in a biofouling prevention coating, which is a system used to protect the hull of a navy ship. It is said that they have two types of coatings, one that has repellent qualities, making it discouraging to fouling organisms. The other one is a special kind of compound, making the proteins used by organisms such as barnacles unable to attach to the surface. Organizations are working on these prevention measures to prevent the unbridled consumption of energy and to reduce “the U.S. Navy’s carbon footprint” (3). They are trying to make it environmentally friendly, as both of their designs are nontoxic. Other methods of anti-fouling are already in use, but according to Progress of marine biofouling and antifouling technologies, many of the antifouling methods, such as tributyltin, have been banned due to the negative environmental impacts it has had, such as being a biocide and killing much of the life around it (2). There are possible biological methods, in which researchers could use the enzymes from other organisms to reduce competition. These enzymes are said to be barely toxic and biodegradable, and it is proven that it could be used for antifouling (2).
Biofouling is a greatly ignored topic, and based on how little information there was compared to other insignificant topics, it is a mystery as to why it is so unknown to the common person. More people should be working on this problem and should be trying to help and figure out how to solve it. Many of the methods that have been explained have their pros and cons, and if more research is done, we could have a better solution already. Biofouling is a huge setback in the quest to be environmentally “green” and it should be dealt with immediately. Hopefully, this shed a little light on a problem that is hiding right under our noses—and our boats.
(1) Bixler, G., & Bhushan, B. (2012). Biofouling: Lessons from nature.Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 2381-2417. doi:10.1098/rsta.2011.0502
(2) Cao, S., Wang, J., Chen, H., & Chen, D. (2010). Progress of marine biofouling and antifouling technologies. Chinese Science Bulletin Chin. Sci. Bull., 56, 598-612. doi:10.1007/s11434-010-4158-4
(3) Fitridge, I., & Dempster, T. (2012, July 28). The impact and control of biofouling in marine aquaculture: A review. Retrieved October 4, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22775076
(4) McElvany, S. (2015). Biofouling Prevention Coatings. Retrieved October 4, 2015 from http://www.onr.navy.mil/media-center/fact-sheets/biofouling-prevention.aspx
(5) NUS. (2009, February 1). Retrieved October 3, 2015, from http://www.tmsi.nus.edu.sg/marine-biofouling-and-antifouling
(6) The Biofouling Problem. (2010). Retrieved October 2, 2015, from http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/generic/ambio/about/biofouling-problem.aspx