Free the Sea Weed

February 03, 2017

Seaweed. The slimy, slippery sensational plant of the ocean can be used in everyday human life for many practical and industrial applications. From organic fertilisers, cosmetics and as edible ‘super foods’ to vital chemical extraction sources that can be adapted in many beneficial ways relating to medicine and biofuels - Seaweed can be quite the asset.

Unfortunately for boat owners, they can also be quite the nuisance. One of the major antagonist of fouling on boats, seaweed has a whole family tree of pesky species that can accumulate like a watery forest on vessel surfaces. Lets take a look at what exactly we’re dealing with and how you can weed out the problem...

Variations of seaweed?

Macro algae, as seaweed is more scientifically beknownst, is the plant like organisms that decorate the sea in all sorts of interesting and, to some, detesting forms. Many people are familiar with the two most common types of seaweed in wracks and kelps. However, since the mid-eighteenth century, seaweeds have been classified by three different divisions based upon the colour of their thallus; Green, brown and red algae. Green algae has the most chlorophyll content relating to its green colour, where as brown algae contains the pigment fucoxanthin, which reflects yellow light giving a brownish sometimes yellowish colour. However, red algae can appear as a variation of colours from a bright brick red or even black due to the phycocyanin it contains which reflects blue light corresponding to its reddish pigmentation.

These ancient organisms are not simply differentiated by their colour. Many species vary in specialized growth forms and tissues, as a result having differing abilities for the attachment to the coastal areas like rock, beach base and other hard substrata that they inhabit. Green algae, also referred to as ‘green grass’ due to its similarity in appearance, exists most commonly in fresh water whilst brown and red algae are classically marine. Overall, there are known to be over 10,000 species of seaweeds with 6,500 of those being red algae, 2000 being brown and 1,500 being green.

All seaweeds have basal structures which allow them to produce a hold fast effect, growing deep roots in to the surfaces they find themselves. Studies have even shown sea weeds with the ability to grow these roots into wood, aluminium and PVC rib coatings, which causes quite the problem for boat owners. To occupy such small rooting systems, seaweeds produce some powerful adhesives even in the case of large volume plants like kelp and egg wracks.

All macro algae uptake there nutrients from surrounding seawater directly through their body cells, while their roots are purely used for anchoring onto surfaces. This simple mode of action for the seaweed nutrient uptake means that they are notorious for their rapid growth. Especially around the waterline, the green variation of seaweed is more dominant, being thicker and more continuous due to their greater need for energy and therefore sunlight to fuel photosynthesis. The red and brown variation of seaweeds are the ones most prevalent on the bottom surfaces as they aren’t as dependent on high light intensity for growth.

Seaweed and foul release?

The introduction of algae to boats is a result of widespread spores which then settle themselves into the crevices of rough boat surfaces. Spores can become embedded within seconds, subsequently beginning their growth within a few hours.

After a  few months, these furry water weeds can string together in their masses to form a dense beard on boat hulls. As early as a a couple of weeks left exposed to the waters, a light 5 o'clock shadow of algae can glaze boat surfaces which is still detrimental to boat performance, contributing to drag resistance and increased fuel consumption.

Antifouls use biocides to deter species of fouling from attaching to boat surfaces, being more effective towards the animal macro fouling. In the case of seaweeds, the tenacious rooting ability of the plant can penetrate even the hardest and thickest of coatings.

Additionally, having a rougher surface facilitates an environment for spore/ root development. The ablative action of antifouls corresponds to a much rougher surface than is found for silicone foul release coatings. Following being scrubbed off, the rooting system of sea weeds remains in tact, further enhancing this roughness.

Therefore, one of the most important attributes of any antifouling technique is to prevent the rooting mechanisms of plants. An obvious way to tackle this problem is to have a boat coating that is both durable, non ablative and smooth enough to resist rooting for a long period of time – silicone foul release coatings can do just that.

For example, areas like the Sydney Harbour are renowned for its weed like sea grass, it grows roots into all coatings, including the most toxic of the antifouls currently available. As such, we have tested our own foul release systems for hulls and ribs to see how we would fair against the attack of sea weeds. Conclusively, we found that the sturdy yet smooth nature of our silicone finish coatings resists all penetration from sea plants whilst also providing simple cleaning, and self cleaning, with no trace of embedded root systems.  

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