UCL News


Barnacle paint 'destroyed Norfolk Broads'

19 September 2006

A paint widely used on the hulls of pleasure boats 40 years ago was blamed yesterday for an environmental disaster in the Norfolk Broads.

Although the anti-fouling paint containing tributylin (TBT) was banned from inland waters in 1987, the Broads' "fragile ecosystem remains shattered", according to researchers from UCL. …

Now, for the first time, the paint originally introduced to keep barnacles off the hulls of merchant ships has been identified as a principal culprit in destroying the Broads' ecosystem and leaving its water green with algae.

Dr Carl Sayer, of the UCL Environmental Change Research Centre, who co-led the study, said: "For too long, TBT has been neglected as a driver of environmental destruction in freshwater wetlands. Even though it is no longer in use in UK inland waterways, TBT contamination and its negative effects are still being reported all over the world. …

"The irony is that the paint was designed to stop barnacles attaching to boats - which you don't get in freshwater. By simply lifting boats out of the water once a year and using a bit of elbow grease, one of Britain's areas of outstanding natural beauty might still be intact rather than on the long road to recovery." …

Dr Sayer added that real concerns had been raised about TBT derived from industrial and ship-breaking activities in several major river systems, including the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Yangtze, all of which were connected to shallow lakes.

"In the case of the Yangtze, the linked shallow lakes are some of the largest in the world and, like the Broads, have experienced problems with plant loss on a large scale," he said.

David Sapsted, 'The Daily Telegraph'