Rights: The University of Waikato Published 27 November 2007 Download

Can the poisons produced by algal blooms be used for anything good? NIWA scientist Dr Vicky Webb talks with students from Cobden Primary School, via video conferencing, about how her team of scientists are investigating this, and where they get their ideas from.


Dr Vicky Webb (NIWA) We had one of these blooms occur in Wellington harbour and the organism produced a chemical that killed everything. It was just hideous. The divers would go out and all the seaweeds had died, all the crayfish had died, all the shellfish. Basically everything in the bottom of the harbour had been killed by this nasty chemical, these little organisms produced. And everyone is going ‘Ahh - This is a big disaster’ but the trick was to think if this little organism produces something that kills a lot of a lot of things, what else could we use it for? Our team came up with the idea that it might be very good to incorporate that chemical into a paint. If you can combine this nasty chemical in a way and stick it in the paint so it doesn't leach out, and leak out into the water but just sits there. Then when these organisms swim up, because what they normally do like barnacles, is they come up and get really close and they taste the surface. It is the best way to describe it. If they don’t like it, they go ‘Urgh’ and they swim off somewhere else and settle. But if they don’t have a good paint on them, they think ‘Great!’ and they’ll sit there and then they’ll attach and they grow into these great big barnacles.