Researchers Cleaning Up Down Under

Drs. Russell Wyeth and Cory Bishop review the equipment purchased for the StFX Centre for Biofouling Research, made possible by NSRIT funding. (Photo Courtesy of StFX)

Drs. Russell Wyeth and Cory Bishop review the equipment purchased for the StFX Centre for Biofouling Research, made possible by NSRIT funding. (Photo Courtesy of StFX)

There’s a war going on beneath the waves and research funding provided by the Nova Scotia Research and Innovation Trust (NSRIT) is helping St. Francis Xavier University (StFX) faculty make sure industry players come out on top.

In an ocean, any submerged surface will quickly become colonized with bacteria, seaweeds, mussels, barnacles, worms, and other creatures. Whether it’s dock pilings, ship hulls, oil platforms or observation equipment, it is often a nuisance to industry.

“The accumulation of microorganisms such as barnacles and algae can reduce productivity and increase fuel requirements,” says Dr. Cory Bishop of the StFX Centre for Biofouling Research. “What we are trying to develop are a novel environmentally friendly surfaces that can resist fouling in a range of applications.”

The research group includes chemistry and biology efforts and has grown over the past two years with links to government and Maritime research groups.

Dr. Bishop received $136,000 in NSRIT funding in 2011 and his colleague Dr. Russell Wyeth received $155,000 in 2010. Without that funding, the researchers agree they would not have been able to leverage other funding that has been crucial to the progress of the Centre.

The ultimate goal of the Centre is to produce a surface that can be kept in a marine environment for extended periods of time without suffering any performance loss because of biofouling. The ideal of surface coating should not leach toxic substances, but simply prevent attachment of any organisms without causing damage to them.

As it turns out, the equipment used to develop the protective surfaces for heavy industry is also useful in solving a problem plaguing aquaculture operations: sea squirts.

Infestations of the invasive sea squirts have been sufficiently high that some mussel farms around the globe have had to close, says Dr. Bishop.

Working with Centre equipment and colleagues from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, new research will look at factors, such as pH and temperature to understand which areas are more susceptible to fouling by this creature. In turn, this may help operators predict which sites to avoid for future mussel farms.

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