At last week’s METSTRADE Show in Amsterdam, a panel of experts discussed the challenges presented by biofouling and its effect on loss of biodiversity on the I-nnovationLAB Stage. Together they looked at the way forward for our industry with various types of antifouling solutions that are currently available.

Session moderator Albert Willemsen, Environmental Consultant with ICOMIA, introduced the subject by stating that invasive (non-native) species coming from underwater marine fouling was the major contributor to loss of biodiversity, with implications for the environment on par with climate change, and referred to by a UN report as ‘the sIlent killer!’

As an example in the last 10 years, 20,000 species have been identified in Europe, with 14,000 of them being designated as invasive/non-native.

Eradication of invasive species once they become established is extremely difficult, some in particular such as zebra mussels are proving almost impossible to deal with.

During the discussion it was agreed that biocide-free antifouling solutions are now becoming much more prominent in the mind-set of the boating community.

Modern antifouling coatings are biocide-free, and proving themselves to be just as effective as previous biocide based formulations. But consumers must be open minded, and change their attitudes too, as must shipyards and applicators.

Other ‘non-paint’ solutions are being developed and proven, such as Ultrasonic systems, and wrapping materials that prevent biofouling from sticking to the hull by various means.

It was agreed that there are multiple options, with no ‘one size fits all’ solution, and that more data is required based on practical testing in a variety of environments.

To this end, the Dutch Waterways management in cooperation with HISWA have been running a long-term trial on several charter yachts with a range of systems, including coatings, ultrasonics and wrappings with non-stick properties.

A comprehensive report will be published in January 2020 revealing the results of these trials, which it is hoped will give consumers a factual data base to help them decide on the most suitable environmentally friendly solution for their specific application.

The threat of invasive species from waste water run off after hull preparation before antifouling was also highlighted. The installation of catchment and filtration systems is being implemented in the Netherlands and some other countries, but this needs to be enforced more widely.

For fully effective prevention of the spread of invasive species, the boat owner has to start thinking about cleaning of the hull before transiting from one cruising area to another, and not after arriving.

In conclusion, Albert Willemsen said: “Ten years ago, this kind of open discussion with so many options and future possibilities would not have been possible. And for sure, the recreational and superyacht sectors are much more open minded and progressive on such matters than the commercial shipping industry is.”