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StFX Biology Profs Investigating Biofouling Affecting Mussel Farms

An invasive sea squirt causing problems with mussel farms locally and around the world has come under the scope of StFX biology professors. Drs. Cory Bishop and Russell Wyeth, along with two colleagues from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) were recently awarded a major two-year $160,000 research grant to investigate the distribution of these infestations.

Funding for the research comes from the Aquaculture Collaborative Research and Development Program (ACRDP), a DFO initiative to increase collaborative research and development activity between the aquaculture industry and the department.

Dr. Bishop and Dr. Wyeth, who are members of StFX’s Centre for Biofouling Research (http://sites.stfx.ca/biofouling/), will be looking at a sea squirt called Ciona intestinalis, a major fouling organism around the world.  In local waters, they have established themselves as the primary fouling organism on mussel farms and are being carefully monitored by DFO.

“Infestations of these organisms can be sufficiently high that some mussel farms have had to close,” Dr. Bishop says.

“Imagine a farmer having to abandon a crop of corn because the weeds are too high! One of the interesting aspects of the growth of Ciona intestinalis is that it is ‘patchy,’ which means that it has huge population sizes in some areas, and smaller sizes in others. We proposed to exploit this fact by measuring differences in abiotic factors, such as pH and temperature, and ask if any of these factors correlate to differences in abundance.”

In doing so, they hope to understand which areas in the province will be more susceptible to fouling by this creature.  In turn, this may help them predict which sites to avoid for future mussel farms and which sites might need to be shut down.

“In the ocean, any submerged surface rapidly becomes colonized with bacteria, seaweeds, mussels, barnacles, worms, and creatures called sea squirts,” the two StFX faculty members say.

“All of these, and many more different kinds of organism, are competing in a kind of real estate war for access to solid surfaces on which to grow. Because they grow on dock pilings, ship hulls, oil platforms, observation equipment etc., they are often a nuisance to humans and so we call them “fouling” organisms or biofoulers.”

Drs. Bishop and Wyeth will supervise a graduate student who will do the work on this project.

The StFX Centre for Biofouling Research is an expanding research group that is establishing relationships with both government and other Maritime research groups. The mandate of the group is to develop novel surfaces that can resist fouling in a range of industrial applications.