The referee called "foul"

As a child, I remember looking with some fascination at barnacles on the piers in a Cape Cod harbor, and reading about how their growth on the bottoms of boats so slowed their progress in the water that dry-docking for barnacle removal was a common practice. Growths of marine organisms on hard surfaces fall under the general term biofouling.

My uncle, a sail boat enthusiast, applauded the invention of biofouling paints that discouraged barnacles and other such organisms from covering the bottom of his boat. But years later, we began to learn about the toxicity of biofouling paints and the impact they had on marine life, even on animals that we sometimes eat.

Now, Daisuke Nakano and David Strayer, scientists at the Cary Institute in Millbrook, NY, document the importance of biofouling animals in freshwater environments.

“We have been lucky in freshwater. There aren’t that many organisms – there aren’t that many plants or animals that are biofoulers in freshwater. So it’s traditionally been thought of as a minor problem. But our study shows that there are a number of organisms that people are moving around the world now – animals like Zebra mussels, Golden mussels, and Asian clams – that cause severe biofouling problems in freshwater now. And because we’re moving them around the world, these problems are getting more widespread and more severe. In fact, our study shows that almost 300 million dollars in damages are being caused by these biofoulers right now, and that number is likely to rise in the future.”

Prevention remains the best management tool – this means minimizing the unintentional global transport of biofouling species into our freshwaters through education and effective policy.

Produced in collaboration with WAMC Northeast Public Radio, this podcast originally aired on June 10, 2014. To access a full archive of Earth Wise podcasts, visit:

Photo: Todd Moon

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