As reported in TCP # 17


What does that Really mean?


 AQIS (Australian Quarantine Service) press release

 Making sure your vessel's hull is free from biofouling before you come to Australia will help you protect our unique marine environment.

The best sailors recognise the value of regular hull maintenance: boats sail better and faster, resale values are maintained and hulls last longer when they're kept clean.

At least 250 introduced marine species are already established in Australian ports and waters -- and a staggering 70 per cent of these arrived as biofouling organisms on vessels' hulls.

The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) has developed a system to regulate biofouling on internationally plying vessels. After considerable consultation, that system will come into force on 1 October, when AQIS will begin inspecting the hulls of all vessels when they arrive at a first port of call in Australia. Vessels with visibly fouled hulls may be subjected to closer inspection and that may involve removing such vessels from the water.


Remember -- if you arrive with a clean hull, you won't face the costs of slipping your vessel.

The new system will be phased in over 12 months. The first stage will consist of voluntary guidelines and data gathering. Initially, the new system will apply only to internationally plying vessels less than 25 m in length and foreign vessels (of any size) that are apprehended for illegal activities or rescued by Australian authorities inside territorial waters.

If you're the operator of an internationally plying vessel less than 25 m in length and you intend to visit Australia, you need to learn about the new protocol. Full details about the protocol and how it will work may be found on the AQIS website





After receiving the press release above and investigating the possible consequences to boaties, I figured we all ought to know more on the subject. Below is my report and comment based on material provided by AQIS and from organisations like the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) of the UN.


By Bob Norson



What does that Really mean?


A:The transportation of undesirable marine species on ships and through water ways.


That's the best simple description I can give. To give some historical back ground; before humans sailed the seas the type of organisms that are the focus of this discussion, had only floating debris and ocean currents for suitable transport. Some reports state that these buggers didn't even like coastal environs. Sailing ships made of timber were a perfect media for the organisms and they would have speeded up the natural transport of them. Events like the California gold rush, apparently brought many new varieties into San Francisco bay as ships converged there from all over the world. Though I am not aware of any research to verify, I would imagine the same thing occurred on the Queensland coast with the spectacular Palmer river gold rush. Cairns and Cooktown, for example, were established as ports to service those fields that were worked by people from all over but especially Chinese.

A handicap the lumbering old tubs had for transporting 'bugs' was their slow speed and circuitous routes. Whatever they acquired in the way of vermin, the crop had to be able to withstand a variety of seawater temperatures and salinity. For example on a voyage from England to Australia with another load of convicts, the ships would begin in the gulf stream waters of the north Atlantic, cross the tropics off Africa or South America, then into the Southern Ocean before raising Australia some three months later. Much of the sea life clinging or boring into the timber would not survive the changes in environment but some would. Of the specie that did survive the voyage, much of it would fail to win the battle of competition with the already well entrenched locals but some might.

Where voyages began and terminated in a similar environment, the little buggers would have the best chance for survival but then in that situation, they were probably already there by effort of nature. Then came the great canals!

The opening of the Suez Canal connected the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Instead of taking months to make the voyage through several climates and environments, a ship could transit the canal in a couple days without the spectacular climate changes of the alternative route. The Panama Canal was even better. Though there would be changes in salinity in the passage, the interval was quick and many would survive. Before the Panama Canal the only connection between the two great Oceans was the hostile and frigid waters off Antarctica and the cape.

Finally, post WWII shipping with their effective anti-fouling paints, (the active ingredients were copper and mercury which were improvements over the old lime and arsenic era) and high speeds were thought to be much less of a risk. Sadly, (for us, not the bugs) not necessarily so. Some of the little macroalgae, tubeworms, molluscs, bryozoans and barnacles became resistant to the poisons and created a substrate for the others. Mercury was found to stay in the oceanic food chain and caused nasty little problems in humans like deformity and death and the speed issue that some were so sure was a good thing back fired when they found out it had a plus side for the Hobos of the Hulls. Besides the quick transit of otherwise unfriendly environment allowing survival of the bugs, it was found that the arrival of the fouled ship in some harbours triggered a reproduction cycle as a result of the water temperature change that saw the 'ejaculation' of clouds of spores.

Tributyltin or tbt or just Tin, whatever you call it, was good while it lasted. For over twenty years it was the anti-foul to use. Shipping company's loved it as well as yachties and why not, it worked. Problem was though, it was as tough on desirable creatures as it was on the undesirable ones. Though yachties were forbidden from using it many years ago, Australian government vessels and international shipping continued to use it right up till 2004 when it was internationally banned .


 What can you do? The shipping must go on. Ballast water was one area that was clearly a problem and fairly manageable. The tiny spores that some of the organisms use for reproduction, may survive for long periods in the ballast water. One notable stuff up that was pretty reliably attributed to a Russian vessel in North America, allowed the establishment of the 'Zebra Mussel' in the Great Lakes that has been a real pain in the ballast for the USA. The ship had loaded water in the Caspian Sea, where the critters are from, and hadn't pumped the water outside the Seaway as it should have. There is now an international accord regarding ballast water in shipping.

Besides ballast water, ships have a variety of places to hide the hobo's. Ships have DDSS (dry dock support strips) that can not be entirely painted. These large devises support and balance the ship when dry. By % of area ships probably leave as much un-painted as any yacht. They also have their sea chest's which can contain huge growths. This is the water inlet chamber for engine cooling, ballast etc. The IMO (International Maritime organisation) is the treaty body that regulates environmental requirements for shipping. Their policy requires ships to be serviced only within five years which was probably acceptable in the days of TBT. Even if a ship is used in ideal circumstances it will have a large quantity of fouling by the time it reaches its scheduled service time. A fouling of 1.5 KG per square metre is common according to research. Add those numbers up for a 300 metre long vessel with a typical 4 metre draft and even without considering nooks, crannies, sea chests, bilge curve etc, that comes to about 3,600 KG of organisms collected from all over the globe perhaps. Tons of the stuff! An LPG tanker studied/surveyed in New Zealand that had been in port for just three months had a growth that was estimated at 11KG of fouling per square metre!

The length of the vessel wasn't specified but say a likely length of at least two hundred metres by 4 draft. Again using the most simple math, ignoring the curves and hiding places still comes to 17,600KG!! On that vessel, “25 species were identified. Almost all the species present were exotic, most were alive and many were reproductively viable.”

Of course being in port contributed to the fouling on that vessel but the fact the fouling was exotic was proof that the vessel was well fouled while in normal service, before arrival.

Where does that leave us?? As far as I've been able to determine at this time, yachts, ships or tinnies, makes no difference. Copper is the active ingredient in your anti-fouling paint with perhaps a shot of herbicide in some. That “grass” you see at the waterline is usually the first to form over the slime and it is everywhere around the world, just like the tubeworms on your prop. Most other types of fouling on your pleasure craft will depend on your location. If a bug was originally from somewhere else, it almost certainly came to your happy shore by ship sometime in the last 200 years. Though most organisms that can migrate, have by now, doesn't mean there aren't more yet.

How do you tell native from exotic?? The answer to that question can get very fuzzy. Humans have been crossing the oceans by ship for thousands of years. The research gives examples of specie that were thought to have been transported and later found to have been native. Nature has had a hand as well with flotsam and even sea creatures like whales and turtles. Some are easier to pick but educated speculation remains the best answer possible for the most part.


 Comment and response...

 by Bob Norson


I received the press release a couple months ago but I believe it is irresponsible to print such a thing as editorial without making an investigation. so….. I get more homework!

To that end, I have been in touch with Peter Neimanis of AQIS to attempt to come to grips with this. To Peter's and Quarantine's credit, information I have requested to examine has actually been produced! A refreshingly positive outcome, however.....

I have some real concerns regarding the study that is at the heart of this proposed regime. My impression from examination of the research document “Hull Fouling as a Vector for the Translocation of Marine Organisms,” is one of reverse engineering coupled with what appears to me to be a selective gathering of facts on the government’s part. That is, the attempt to justify a previous conclusion. My basis for this is many fold. In the “preamble” it is clearly stated that the program is in place and the study itself is “phase 1” with the other phases defined and articulated within the preamble. I always thought what you should do was have the study and then decide what action you want to take based on the conclusion. And speaking of conclusion, my opinion after examination of the substance of the report is that there is little justification for the proposed new protocol regarding yachts by AQIS, preconceived or otherwise.

The report is a collection of references to research done on the subject from all over the world over the last 70 years or so. A single Australian source ( Oliver Floerl et al of James Cook University) focus's attention on yachts and that appears to be a very lightweight piece originally published as a pamphlet and not what I would consider good science if the report is properly quoted by the governments study. For example, the author offers a view of normal yacht maintenance based on an interview with one individual! And there is more.

Quoting from the report: “Fouling assemblages on pontoons, pilings and the hulls of recreational vessels moored in three Queensland marinas, at Airlie Beach, Townsville and Cairns, were surveyed in a study by Floerl and Inglis (2000). A total of 447 vessels were inspected in the three marinas, of which 340 were local vessels and 107 visiting vessels. The majority of boats had comparatively clean hulls, but a considerable proportion (~ 35%) of both vessels carried light (14.4% local 12.2% visiting) moderate (14.4%local, 16.8% visiting) or heavy (9.4% local, 6.5% visiting) fouling. Assemblages on vessels were consistently most similar to the resident biota in the marina in which they were residing….. Many of the visiting boats sampled subsequently left the marinas for other destinations, carrying examples of the local fouling community on their hulls.”

Unlike other reports that made specifications in detail, this report does not tell if the “visiting vessels” were international or interstate. There was no criteria given for ascertaining the claimed percentages of fouling. Were these rather arbitrary assessments of the divers? And the big one, the one that really exposes a weakness in the report, is the assertion that “many of the visiting boats sampled… left the marinas for other destinations.. carrying fouling.. on their hulls.” (Just what does “many” mean?) It is probably safe to assume from the rather vague wording above, that there was no accounting or inspection of individual out-bound vessels, just assumption that what they saw “moored” was what left at some later date. How incredibly ignorant of normal boating practices! No boaty cleans their hull while residing in a marina for a period of employment, cyclone season shelter or whatever. You do your bum job immediately prior to leaving. The author's conclusion that what he claimed to observe in the marina was what sailed away was entirely erroneous, yet the proposed rules seem based on this one researcher’s conclusion. Another point that can be made of this is that the author admits that the fouling present on the vessels was of a type normally found in the marina already. That blows away the theory that the yachts have brought in a threat. The fact of the matter is, the marina infested the boats, not the other way around. If you omit the work of this one source there is nothing I could find in the 129 pages that gives sufficient support for all this.


 I could go point by point for hours (I have weeks of investigation and note taking on this) but to be as brief as possible, the government seems to have concluded that small craft are poorly maintained with inferior paints and operators (you) do not care if fuel costs and sailing efficiency are compromised by hull fouling. This is certainly not the case with me and from what I observe in practice, almost universally untrue. Further, the government defends its lack of focus on shipping by stating that ships have better/more frequent maintenance, use better paints and aren’t a fouling threat because they are faster and only spend 24 hours in port. Besides defying my personal observations these points are all disputed by their own report, even if you are being a bit selective.

I could not find an instance in the study where a source states to have proof (with an actual survey report or other substantial documentation) that pleasure craft have ever been responsible for transporting a pest into a port in Australia or anywhere else. The closest they have is Cullen Bay in Darwin where it is believed to be “likely” that a yacht brought in a foreign mollusc. There is nothing in the report about such a yacht being surveyed there, although there is mention of foreign fishing boats in Darwin that were surveyed and found to be carrying the pest. Shipping on the other hand, is very well documented when it comes to being a transporter of marine organisms. There is a plethora of proof regarding that but nonetheless; the government focuses on pleasure craft!!!! WHY??

How about this little nugget?? Back to that preamble again, there is a quote under the heading of, “Purposes of the other three phases of the project are to: ....Promotion of good maintenance and anti-fouling practises to small boat owners, including actions to ensure boats do not continue to operate, or move outside their home port when the predicted life of the paint scheme has been exceeded or the anti-fouling has lost its effectiveness.” I suggest you take a long look at that small passage and really consider what it means. According to Peter Neimanis of AQIS that I interviewed for this article, the federal government is organising an "intergovernmental agreement" to form a body to implement regulation of vessels between ports within Australia. This is really scary stuff and unsupported as far as I could determine from the research except our one author again. Why??

And how about the money?? User pays dude! The AQIS fee will be increased to $200 for boats clearing in. Not to mention this puts you at the mercy of an inspector’s arbitrary judgement and whatever local slipway operator is handy.

And what about shipping?? I quote, “Develop a strategy to develop an [sic] implement a hull management module into the Australian Ballast Water Support System (phase 4).” Unfortunately my fellow boaties, we are phase 3 and the wording regarding us is much less vague. I don’t think AQIS will or can do anything regarding shipping that isn’t already a matter of agreement with the IMO (International Maritime Organisation of the United Nations) In fact, matters that government infers are national initiatives regarding shipping (ballast water, TBT ban etc) are found, upon my investigation to be requirements of the IMO! Oh… I can just see AQIS telling one of the 250 metre coal ships that stand off Mackay for a week at a time that it must go on the slip immediately!!

There is a good reason no other country has done this. If it was reasonable and/or workable it would already be in place in the many countries that have a far better track record of protecting their environment than Australia. Boaties are the first to wish to protect the oceans. The threat from yachts is not well established and the assumption that yachts are poorly maintained is wrong. Whilst yachts, that are already grossly over-regulated, are having to deal with yet another hurdle, more serious threats are on the back burner. WHY??

For example, how about our government signing up to the Kyoto agreement and start doing our share to save our own reef and the rest of the planet. Otherwise it smacks of soft target syndrome.