Biofouling via invasive aquatic species (IAS) is one problem that has been identified by the International Maritime Organization as a significant environmental threat.  Biofouling occurs as the result of an accumulation of aquatic organisms such as micro-organisms, plants, and animals on surfaces and structures immersed in or exposed to the aquatic environment. Dr. Theofanis Karayannis, an International Maritime Organization (IMO) technical officer, recently suggested that hull biofouling could be as severe a cause of the incursion of IAS, as ballast water has previously been thought to be.

Global and Regional Environmental Effects of Biofouling

The IMO‘s November 2017 legal update provided three major observations regarding aquatic invasive species on a global level:

  • Seventy to eighty percent of IAS introductions occur through biofouling, and new geographic areas are constantly being invaded.
  • AIS can cause enormous damage to biodiversity, and the damage AIS causes is often irreversible.
  • The spread of IAS is one of the greatest threats to the ecological and the economic well-being of the planet.

The effects of IAS in North America have been felt throughout the Great Lakes, Mississippi, East, West and Gulf Coasts, as well as the Arctic. Many nonindigenous species have been introduced to all the North American coasts. The Transport Canada website states that the Great Lakes now have over 170 established aquatic alien invasive species.


The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) established the International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-Fouling Systems on Ships in 2001. It prohibits the use of harmful organotin compounds in anti-fouling paints used on vessels. It defines “anti-fouling systems” as “a coating, paint, surface treatment, surface or device that is used on a ship to control or prevent attachment of unwanted organisms”.

The convention called for a global prohibition on the application of organotin compounds in anti-fouling systems on ships by January 1, 2003, and a complete prohibition by January 1, 2008. The convention became valid and enforceable on September 17, 2008. Consequently, ships must remove any harmful coatings or completely seal them with an approved coating. Several new types of new coatings have been developed to assist with this issue and that are in accordance with the Guidelines for The Control and Management of Ships’ Biofouling to Minimize the Transfer of Invasive Aquatic Species in 2011.

More recently, The International Convention on the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments came into force in September 2017.

Internationally, New Zealand is currently working through the IMO process to bring about revisions to the 2011 requirements. New Zealand may be at forefront of biofouling protection, having passed various laws including:

1993 – New Zealand Biosecurity Act,

2014 – New Zealand Craft Risk Management Standard.

The implication for vessel operators entering New Zealand is that as of May 2018, vessels must arrive with a ‘clean hull’. This means:

  • Vessels staying up to 20 days and only visiting designated ports (places of first arrival) will be allowed a slight amount of biofouling (slime layer, goose barnacles, and up to 5% cover of early biofouling depending on the area fouled).
  • Vessels staying longer than 20 days or visiting places that aren’t places of first arrival will only be allowed a slime layer and goose barnacles.

In North America the United States Coast Guard (USCG) has required a biofouling management plan (BMP) on board a vessel since June 2012. The State of California established a Marine Invasive Species Act in 2003 with the goal of reducing the risk of introducing invasive aquatic species. The State passed legislation entitled California’s Marine Invasive Species Program (MISP) Beginning January 1, 2018, California requires stringent reporting and inspection procedures far above national standards and consistent with the best practices found in the IMO biofouling guidelines. The Californian law provide for extensive reporting and data recording procedures than the USCG requirements.

Canada, continues to formulate programs and commit considerable resources to tackle the problem of IAS and waterborne toxins. Efforts to address biofouling include legislative instruments, regulations, policies and practices that are evolving over time. Some of the most important legislation is contained in Canada’s Oceans Act, Species at Risk Act, Fisheries Act and Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations and Regulations for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships and for Dangerous Chemicals.


The effects of biofouling effects on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, Arctic and Great Lakes are already being experienced and will become a significant priority in Canada. Scientists, governments and shipping company officials are becoming ever more aware that biofouling of a ship hill has to become a significant priority in the management and prevention of marine invasive species.

Consequently, biofouling is a substantial global challenge and will soon if not already take center stage in the prevention of IAS invasion. Internationally and regionally, solutions to BWM are in their late stages so the focus will now begin shifting to this problem. Through its unique monitoring program, PRPA is working collaboratively with partners in Prince Rupert and across the west coast of North America to understand better how we can collectively keep our coastline healthy and free from potentially harmful organisms. The Watch Plate program demonstrates that wise stakeholders have been proactive in dealing with biofouling.

For shipowners, the issues are more than avoiding costly maintenance in the future. The costs of trying to manage IAS infiltration into various regions is significant. The whole research, regulatory and application processes that are required to remedy this problem has and will prove to be quite costly to both stakeholders and governments.

The complete article by Darryl Anderson and Georges LaRoche appears in the June 2018 issue of BC Shipping News.