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Barnacles: The Tiny Giants of the Ocean Ecosystem

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Although they can be a headache, we can’t ignore the important role barnacles play in our ocean’s ecosystem.


Barnacles may be small, but they pack a big punch in the ocean ecosystem! Known for their unique biology and incredible strength, barnacles are a type of crustacean belonging to the same family as lobsters, crabs, and shrimp. They are found in oceans all over the world, with over 1,400 different species, according to National Ocean Service.

Barnacles begin their life as free-swimming larvae until they choose a surface to attach themselves permanently and begin growing their hard, shell-like exoskeleton. As sessile creatures, they do not move around once attached – they’re in for the long haul!


These sticky creatures attach themselves to a variety of underwater surfaces including rocks, docks, boats, and even each other. In order to stick, they secrete barnacle glue, also known as ‘barnacle cement’, which is six times stronger than any manmade glue – so strong that it can withstand extreme pressures, temperatures, and salinity levels. Their glue is so strong that researchers are currently studying it’s composition and properties in the hopes of reproducing it for commercial use.

As any boat owner knows, barnacles can be a nuisance, attaching themselves to the hull, propellers, rudders, transducers, underwater lights, and other underwater surfaces. This greatly increases drag and fuel consumption, reducing speed, and potentially causing damage that can lead to costly repairs. Not only this but fouling of underwater assets also means owners are not getting the most out of their transducers and underwater lights. Most boat owners can also recall many painstaking hours spent under their boat, scraping these underwater surfaces clean.

Barnacles on boat propeller and rudder

Although they can be a headache, we can’t ignore the important role they play in our ocean’s ecosystem. Barnacles filter feed on plankton and other small organisms, filtering and cleansing large amounts of water for other organisms. They are also an important food source for whales, fish, seabirds, and other marine animals.

Because of their ecological importance, it is vital that we don’t kill them through the use of biocides and toxins. Propspeed’s coatings are foul-release, which, unlike conventional antifoul paint, works by creating a slick, hydrophobic surface that barnacles cannot stick to. Any particularly stubborn barnacles that to manage to attach will fall off when the boat reaches cruising speed or can be easily wiped off with a soft cloth. They are then free to find another underwater surface to call home, making it a win-win for both boat owners and our sticky little friends!

This refit season is the perfect time to future-proof with Propspeed, keeping your boat looking and performing its best for the boating season, as well as saving time and money on maintenance at your next haul-out by preventing marine growth.


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