Bat­tling Bar­na­cles

Soundings - - Dispatches - — Pim Van Hem­men

To fight bar­na­cles, the mar­itime in­dus­try has used ca­reen­ing, cop­per bot­toms, lead paint, tar and mod­ern chem­i­cal com­po­si­tions. Some meth­ods have worked bet­ter than oth­ers, but the most ef­fec­tive ones—poi­sonous paints— also have a habit of killing de­sir­able marine crea­tures, in­clud­ing oys­ters. Now, sci­en­tists be­lieve they have found a so­lu­tion that might save the ship­ping in­dus­try bil­lions of dol­lars per year in lost time, causes no harm to other marine or­gan­isms and cures the long­time headache of recre­ational boaters.

Bar­na­cles se­crete a liq­uid glue and at­tach them­selves to boats in ways that make them tough to re­move. Re­searchers at Kiel Uni­ver­sity in Ger­many be­lieve that putting tex­ture on hulls may pre­vent bar­na­cles from ce­ment­ing them­selves to ship bot­toms in the first place.

Ap­par­ently, bar­na­cles can’t get a firm grip on mi­cro­scopic struc­tures shaped like mush­rooms. Re­searchers put a mi­cro-struc­tured sil­i­cone patch on a sail­boat and sent it into the Baltic and North seas for seven months. When it re­turned, the patch had no bar­na­cles on it. Keel haul­ing may never be the same again.

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