Protecting Ocean Biodiversity - METSTRADE Panel Review

Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Last month’s METSTRADE Connect show featured the usual series of Sustainability focused panel discussions, and although this time they were broadcast in a virtual format, there was plenty of proof that 2020 was a year of solid progress. Despite the difficult circumstances, developments were almost certainly accelerated, mainly due to the recognition, that creating a more environmentally sustainable planet is a project that just won’t wait!

Having been organiser and editor of the three sessions, I have probably seen the videos more times than anyone, so over the next few weeks I plan to share a ‘5 minute read’ of what I thought were the key points on each of them, starting here with the first one, entitled ‘Ocean Biodiversity and Biofouling.’

GloFouling background

The IMO Global Project Task Force called GloFouling was introduced at last year’s METSTRADE. One of the project’s main tasks over a five year period will be to develop best practices that may address the transfer of invasive aquatic species through improved biofouling management of underwater hulls.

The importance of maintaining balanced marine biodiversity, and protecting it from the growing spread of non-indigenous species has become a major constituent in the overall effort to improve and protect the health of the World’s oceans. The loss of biodiversity has been identified by the UN as an environmental threat on par with Climate Change.

The panel discussion was moderated by Albert Willemsen, Environmental Consultant to ICOMIA, who was joined by Dr Gareth Prowse, of Hempel Paints, Dr Julian Hunter,  Representing the European Paint Makers Association, Darren Jones, from NRG Sonihull ultrasonic anti-fouling systems, and Dan Reading, Head of Sustainability at World Sailing.

The threat from invasive alien species (IAS)

In his introduction Albert confirmed that marine biofouling is unquestionably increasing the growth of invasive species worldwide, reminding us that in Europe alone, there are 14,000 non-native (alien) species already identified. He also mentioned, that he had seen during the last year, a significant increase in the role of competent/ governmental authorities in taking the threat more seriously, and instigating actions to counter it, by educating and involving companies, trade organisations and various action groups right down to individual level.

It should be mentioned here, that invasive alien species can (and often do) become permanently established in their new locations by out-competing their indigenous counterparts, and some of them are almost impossible to eradicate, such is the dangerous scale of this escalating phenomenon.

The role of biocides in antifouling coating formulations

Julian Hunter was asked to give an overview on current regulations concerning the use of biocides in antifouling.  He remarked that the last five years or so, have seen some major changes in the regulations concerning biocide content, with the aim to limit the permitted ones, to those that effectively biodegrade when released into the water. This means that they should not build up to the degree where they cause harm to the marine environment and its inhabitants. He confirmed that on this basis, only 4 biocides are lawfully permitted nowadays, compared with 14 or so a few years ago.

Julian also stressed that the IMO guidelines on biofouling management fully recognise the importance of biocide containing antifouling coatings, but also combined with correct specification and application methods, thus forming a comprehensive package of measures to best control underwater fouling on all vessels as safely as possible.

Finding the middle ground between overlapping regulatory policies

Gareth Prowse responded with his views on the situation with regard to regulatory compliance on the use of biocides, saying that the coating industry is still heavily dependent on their use for effective fouling control.

However he confirmed that paint companies and chemical suppliers are working smarter in reaction to the changes in regulations for biocide content in their products, which have tightened more and more over the last 15 years. For instance paint chemists are using different resin technologies to control the release of biocides into the water, and biocide suppliers are developing encapsulation techniques or co-formulations with other compounds, in order to mitigate the more hazardous aspects of biocides that enter the marine environment.

Commenting on legislative policy frameworks, Gareth said that the European Green Deal could become the game changer, in better aligning the overlap between legislation across different but complementary spheres, such as regulations on chemical usage, environment/ emissions, and biodiversity. He said there is a major need to find a middle ground that leads most effectively to all underwater hulls being less fouled, and that coating companies are working more with other emerging (non paint) technologies rather than pushing a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

The IMO GloFouling Project in action

Dan Reading of World Sailing gave some insight into how the GloFouling project is being rolled out. He said that the project has been going ahead during 2020, and is aimed at just about everything that floats, or is immersed in water, including commercial shipping, and offshore / harbour installations as well as recreational boating.

A survey has been launched which Dan urged everyone who owns a boat to participate in. It is called: ‘Biofouling management in the recreational boating sector’ and the intention is to learn about current practices used by owners and users of recreational boats for preventing and managing biofouling on their hulls. The aim of this initiative is to identify better and more economically efficient tools for all boaters to prevent biofouling. It will take about 5 minutes to complete, (I know because I have done it,) and it can be accessed via this link.

At the same time, World Sailing have been working on creating educational resources, part of which focuses on the issue of invasive species. The material has been translated into 14 languages and the international sailing federations across the world are already using this to educate their members and sailing participants.

Dan also emphasised that cross cooperation between various organisations engaged in the project is vital, in order to harvest information and to spread the word about best practises. He mentioned that ICOMIA, IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) IMO, and World Sailing are all in the partnership together, and focusing initially on 12 countries as the first phase of the project.

Ultrasonics and their role in fouling prevention

Darren Jones was speaking for Ultrasonic antifouling producer Sonihull, and in addition to his duties there, he has also accepted the role of Chairman to the recently formed Global Industrial Alliance (GIA.) This collaborative venture was announced last June, and combines the forces of IMO, UNDP (United Nations Development Program) and several companies in the private sector.

Darren stated that incoming orders for ultrasonic antifouling systems from the commercial shipping world are very healthy, but he stressed that none of the so called ‘novel technologies’ coming to the market are going to be a ‘silver bullet’ to prevent biofouling.

His contention and that of Sonihulls, is that there has to be a joined-up approach to the challenges of marine fouling, which involves coatings companies, ultrasonics, wraps, non-stick concepts, innovative cleaning solutions, etc. etc; but also working together with marinas and the regulators at both international and local levels.

He also made the point that most investment projects that tackle environmental issues, also bring financial benefits for the users. For example a vessel with a clean hull runs more efficiently, thus reducing fuel and maintenance costs, as well as emitting less C02.

One of the challenges discussed by last year’s biofouling panel was how to address niche underwater areas, such as cooling systems, propulsion appendages etc, Darren used this example again, to emphasise how coatings and ultrasonics could work together for a better overall solution.


The need for more education and transparency seemed to be one of the main themes that ran through this session. All the speakers mentioned that full details threats and opportunities, and of developing technologies and their respective benefits, were still not getting through to a wide enough audience of end-users.

Sounds like a good reason to update on this important subject again at next year’s METSTRADE. See you there!

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