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Exotic marine pests to be caught on tape

Exotic marine pests to be caught on tape

An underwater video camera on wheels is the latest weapon in the war against the introduction of exotic marine species into New Zealand waters.

‘HullCam’ was specially designed by scientists from the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) to help measure the amount of fouling on yacht hulls. “Between 400 and 500 ocean-going yachts visit New Zealand each year – and even more visited during the last America’s Cup. These yachts can pose a biosecurity risk if they carry problem species on their hulls, particularly because they travel more slowly than commercial vessels, and spend more time in their destination ports, where the pest species can colonise. In contrast to commercial vessels, these yachts haven’t received much attention,” said NIWA scientist Dr Oliver Floerl in the latest issue of Aquatic Biodiversity & Biosecurity, which was released today.

HullCam is a remote underwater video lens attached to a frame. The frame has wheels that allow it to roll along or across a yacht hull while being steered from the surface by a telescopic arm. The lens, aided by twin underwater lights, sends a moving image to a digital video camera at the surface. Still images are then captured to calculate the amount of fouling.

“There have been major advances over the past 50 years in the development of toxic antifouling paints to prevent the growth of marine species on ship and boat hulls, “ said Dr Floerl. But despite these efforts, hull fouling continues to be one of the main ways that exotic marine species are introduced into New Zealand and other countries.

NIWA’s National Centre of Aquatic Biodiversity & Biosecurity is developing better tools to identify and manage the marine biosecurity risks posed by international yachts visiting New Zealand. As part of this programme, NIWA and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) Quarantine Service have been working together to collect information on the recent travel history of yachts entering New Zealand waters, and the amount and diversity of fouling organisms found on them.

“So far we have used HullCam to sample fouling organisms on nearly 100 yachts,” said Dr Floerl. “HullCam is more efficient than scuba divers – at least three staff are needed for dive surveys, but HullCam can be operated by one person. Divers are also limited in the number of dives they can do in a day.”

NIWA plans to sample another 100 international yachts during the coming boating season.

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