Marine biofouling refers to the undesirable growth of marine organisms on immersed artificial structures such as ship hulls, jetty pilings, navigational instruments, aquaculture net cages and seawater intake pipes. Biofouling on ships reduce their speed and manoeuvrability, resulting in increased fuel and maintenance costs. On static structures such as buoys, piers and jetties, biofouling can accelerate corrosion as well as increase the risk of mechanical failure. Fouling is a serious problem causing blockage of seawater intake pipes. Fouling organisms and organisms hitch-hiking in the ballast tanks of ships are the major vectors for invasive organisms causing environmental impacts in many countries.
Lack of knowledge of taxonomy and ecology of tropical fouling organisms is a major stumbling block to development of effective antifouling management. This has led to the unnecessarily heavy handed use of broad spectrum toxins which damage the environment and kill native wildlife. In order to develop efficient management practices, we need to be able to recognise and identify fouling organisms, and understand the dynamic processes involved in the development of fouling communities. Without proper understanding of ecology of these animals, technologies to control fouling have limited success and run high risks of environment impact.
This project funded by the US Office of Naval Research Coatings Program and the Singapore Defence Science and Technology Agency project investigates the performance of antifouling coatings in tropical Southeast Asian coastal waters. Coating performance was compared between US and Singapore, to understand the biological processes that contribute to the way antifouling coatings function. The data contributes toward engineering of new antifouling technologies and management of fouling for naval installations and vessels operating in tropical Southeast Asia.
The goal of the antifouling development research at TMSI is to design effective antifouling agents that rapidly biodegrade and do not bioaccumulate in the environment. In earlier research at TMSI, we identified pharmaceuticals with potent antifouling activity (US11/265,833). In a joint project with A* Institute for Chemical Engineering & Sciences and the Maritime Port Authority of Singapore, new active small molecules were designed. These new compounds are not highly toxic but disrupt settlement of barnacle larvae. A provisional patent has been filed (US Provisional Patent Application No. 61/053,729) and full PCT file is underway. Collaborations with industry partners are sought for further product development. In addition, TMSI researchers are actively working in cross-discipline projects with materials engineers and polymer scientists to improve the performance of coatings.
Fouling on unprotected PVC after 1 month immersion at TMSI Test Site (June 2001)
Fouling on the underside of a navigational buoy moored off Raffles Lighthouse, Singapore