Fouling Community Study

On September 12, 2001 the 9th & 10th grade students of Tualatin Valley Junior Academy placed this cinder block in Yaquina Bay under the Marine Discovery Tours dock in Newport, Oregon. An identical block was placed in Yaquina Bay on September 13, 2001 off a pier at Hatfield Marine Science Center. On February 22, 2002 we took a sneak peek at one of the blocks and discovered that many organisms had already begun living on it.  

On September 11, 2002 we left two new cinder blocks in the bay at the same locations.  These blocks were brought up in September 2003 and were examined by our students for fouling organisms.  Students continued to survey and photograph their discoveries during Fall 2003.

Both blocks were retrieved on September 11, 2002. With the help of staff at Hatfield Marine Science Center we identified six species of juvenile crab, copepods, mussels, clams, kelp, barnacles, worms, and observed a vast amount of things we were not prepared to identify.  We were greatly impressed with the species richness (biodiversity) that these blocks attracted during the year they were underwater.  

What is a Fouling Community?

Most objects placed in the ocean will become covered with marine organisms after a period of time. Barnacles, anemones, sponges, algae, bryozoans, tunicates, hydroids, amphipods and isopods are a few of the many organisms that make up fouling communities.

Most of these organisms spend the larval stage of their lives drifting on the ocean currents as part of the plankton. Eventually they mature and attach themselves to solid objects where they will remain the rest of their adult lives.

Fouling organisms can easily be observed living on the rocks of your favorite tide pool. However, fouling communities commonly establish themselves on docks, pilings and ships where they become problems for human activity.

A fouling community well established on the bottom of a ship will increase drag enough to slow it down, and cause increased fuel consumption. A greater problem is the resulting spread of invasive non-native species around the globe. These invasive species can have a catastrophic effect on native ecosystems.

To combat these problems ships must constantly be cleaned and maintained. Many ship owners apply highly toxic anti-fouling paint to their hulls. Although the toxic paint keeps most fouling organisms away, it also poses a harmful threat to any aquatic organisms living around ports. Scientists are working hard to find nontoxic anti-fouling surfaces that could help solve this problem.