To fight barnacles, the maritime industry has used careening, copper bottoms, lead paint, tar and modern chemical compositions. Some methods have worked better than others, but the most effective ones—poisonous paints—also have a habit of killing desirable marine creatures, including oysters. Now, scientists believe they have found a solution that might save the shipping industry billions of dollars per year in lost time, causes no harm to other marine organisms and cures the longtime headache of recreational boaters.
Barnacles secrete a liquid glue and attach themselves to boats in ways that make them tough to remove. Researchers at Kiel University in Germany believe that putting texture on hulls may prevent barnacles from cementing themselves to ship bottoms in the first place.
Apparently, barnacles can’t get a firm grip on microscopic structures shaped like mushrooms. Researchers put a micro-structured silicone patch on a sailboat and sent it into the Baltic and North seas for seven months. When it returned, the patch had no barnacles on it. Keel hauling may never be the same again. —Pim Van Hemmen
This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue.