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Making Shipping Greener With Hairy Ships

The “fouling” of boats — when aquatic animals like barnacles and tubeworms attach to hulls — has been a nuisance for as long as we’ve been sailing the seas. Fouling messes up a vessel’s streamlined shape, decreasing its speed, maneuverability, and in modern times, its fuel-efficiency. Fouling spikes the carbon footprint of the shipping industry, already greater than that of most countries.

For centuries, people used copper coatings to prevent fouling. Modern solutions use toxic chemical paints that pollute the water, kill marine life, and contribute to the degradation of our oceans when they wear off.

A new approach is trying to work with nature instead of against it. Taking inspiration from the Salvinia plant, which is covered in tiny hair-like structures that make it basically waterproof, scientists are developing a stick-on silicone coating for ships that prevents animal hitchhikers from getting a foothold.