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Our Chesapeake Fouling Community

Barnacles and bryozoans rampage thru summer 2013

Donnie Howard power washes sludge from the hull of a boat at Herrington Harbour North Marina.

You are not alone.    
    Bryozoans, barnacles and the vast fellowship of the fouling community are settling on submerged surfaces throughout the upper- to mid-Chesapeake.
    Anything not protected with antifouling paint is now covered in a thick, brown living moss.
    “This year we have a heavy growth of bryozoans, animals that look like brown moss that trap a lot of sediment out of water,” says Anson ‘Tuck’ Hines, director of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater.
    “First come barnacles, with larvae most abundant in late April and early May when boats go in the water. Then bryozoans — which were pretty dense in late June and early July — overgrow them. Then the whole thing traps sediment, so it becomes dense and heavy.”
    “Sludge,” Donnie Howard calls it. “Mud that splashes onto my white T-shirts and won’t bleach out in the wash.”
    Howard should know. He spends his days powerwashing the hulls and power drives of boats at Herrington Harbour North Marina, which sits right in the middle of that fouling zone.
    Howard and the Herrington Harbour Travel Lift crews are short-hauling and power-washing 25 or 30 boats a week.
    “It’s a big, huge, nasty job,” says crew leader Toby Fultz.
    Many have propellers too fouled for navigation.
    Also fouled are crab traps and oyster cages for oyster gardening, floats and pilings and the fouling plates put out at Smithsonian Environmental Research Center to keep up with fouling organisms.
    From those floats, Hines can assure you the “fouling community” is numerous and diverse, including sponges, oysters and mussels, to name a few. Varieties vary with salinity and region. The West Coast, for example, gets “huge growths of mussels.”
    Wherever boats have been, the fouling community has been the “bane of boaters from the beginning,” Hines says.
    Modern fouling paints discourage the growth. But, Hines says, for those retardants to work, “you have to have a boat moving. If you sit still weeks without movement, the paints don’t work.”
    That’s a lesson many occasional boaters are learning this summer, which is one of the occasional years the fouling community goes rampant.
    Occasional as in “maybe two out of 10 years,” Hines says.
    This year and not last year.
    In September, John Hanson wrote that he was missing the foul creatures.
    What happened to the barnacles in the middle Bay? I have kept a boat in Deale for 15 years and have never experienced anything like this. There are no barnacles — not on the boats, not on the pilings, not on anything. This is alarming! Can you find out and let us know what is going on? The Bay seems to be dying!
    As far as Hines knows — and that’s as much as anybody — nobody can explain the highs and lows of the fouling community.
    “I could not tell you why, and I don’t know that anybody could,” he told Bay Weekly.