Biosecurity news

30 June 2020

Cawthron scientists to inspect foreign vessels for biofouling as part of national biosecurity survey

Cawthron scientists have joined a major effort to combat ‘stowaway’ invasive marine species entering New Zealand waters on the hulls of cargo ships.

From August 2020, Cawthron scientists, working with New Zealand Diving and Salvage (NZDS), will carry out in-water hull surveys of more than 40 vessels entering New Zealand’s ports.

The Biosecurity New Zealand funded biofouling survey aims to build a profile of vessels that are most likely to be contaminated with foreign marine species. The survey will help to identify risk factors that influence biofouling growth on commercial ships visiting New Zealand.

‘Biofouling’ is the accumulation of microorganisms, plants, algae, or small animals on underwater surfaces, one example being barnacles on the bottom of ships. Biofouling can cause damage to boats and affect the functioning of underwater equipment and structures at ports, wharfs and marinas and in industries like fishing and aquaculture.

Marine Ecologist Javier Atalah will be leading Cawthron’s involvement in the project and says invasive marine species represent a significant risk to New Zealand’s economic, environmental, and cultural values.

“Biosecurity New Zealand estimate that 90% of marine pests established in New Zealand’s marine environment arrive as biofouling on the hulls of international vessels. The work we have been contracted to do will help Biosecurity New Zealand to better understand what aspects of ship behaviour and maintenance represent the biggest risk to New Zealand.”

“From Cawthron’s perspective, this is an exciting project to be part of because we have wide ranging interests in marine biofouling and introduced species. For example, we study the effects of biofouling on aquaculture and maritime industries, impacts on our native marine species, surface treatment technologies to reduce biofouling, and coastal structure designs that can make it more difficult for invasive species to become established.”

The ships selected to take part in the survey will be required to undergo a dive inspection and answer questions about vessel maintenance and voyage history.  

The project is expected to take up to two years and will involve a broad selection of vessels to ensure it is representative of the industry. Ultimately, the shipping industry will benefit from more efficient border procedures to evaluate biofouling risks and streamline entry requirements.

“We are really pleased to be contributing to a project with Biosecurity New Zealand and NZDS that will help to build on New Zealand’s biosecurity capability,” Javier Atalah said.