Proper preventive boat maintenance can significantly reduce owner complaints, repair costs and down time, and unintentional and unnecessary environmental impacts. Environmental damage can be caused by leaks of toxic substances, such as oil or fuel, the release of heavy metals from antifouling bottom paints, releases of untreated bilge residues, or directly releasing or emptying tanks for grey and black waters at anchoring sites. Although one small fuel leak from a tour boat may not cause long-term damage, over time the cumulative effects of pollution from many boats in a popular area can lead to significant degradation of the marine environment. These impacts can have negative consequences for both the ecological and economic health of an entire coastal community.
Why Should I Care?
Distribution of Toxins in The Food Chain: Toxic antifouling paint can accumulate in a sensitive environment in the form of small chips that settle on a reef. Once these chips begin to grow algae on them, they can be consumed by herbivores in the ecosystem, leading to the distribution and buildup of heavy metals throughout fish populations and negatively affecting other consumers, from carnivorous fish to marine mammals and humans. Known health threats or problems with fish supplies in an area can diminish the attractiveness of a destination to tourists.
Increase in Stressed and Diseased Corals: Fuels, oils and antifouling bottom paints contain known carcinogens and heavy metals. Studies have shown that these substances can stress and kill living corals and other organisms. Increased levels of stress and death in corals can lead to an overall reduction of diversity in a reef ecosystem, which will also negatively impact the experiences of potential visitors to the reef.
Lower Fish and Reef Diversity Near Harbors and Other Visitor’s Sites: The cumulative effects of pollution from poorly maintained vessels permanently moored in local marinas, harbors and coastal visitor’s sites can reduce ecosystem health and increase toxicity levels in consumable fish and coral reefs in nearby waters. This can lead to fewer fish, corals and other key components of sea-bottom habitats and other marine ecosystems, on which charismatic species such as penguins, cormorants and sea lions (in the case of the Galápagos Islands) depend for their survival.
Damage to Marine Life from Toxic Waste: Illegal or accidental dumping of toxic waste, black water, grey water and untreated bilge fluids at sea can kill marine wildlife, including fish, marine mammals, turtles, seabirds and smaller species, such as plankton and other microorganisms. Many of these species are key attractions for tourists, and their loss can harm the viability of the tourism industry in an area.
What Can I Do?
Perform Regular Engine Maintenance: Have a mechanic perform regular servicing of engines, fuel tanks and associated components, to maximize operating capacity and minimize fuel consumption. Use clean-burning four-stroke engines whenever possible.
Regularly Inspect Areas That Are Susceptible to Potential Leaks of Toxic Substances: This can include regularly checking fuel lines and tanks, filters, separators, vents and bilge pumps.
Keep Toxic-Absorbent Sponges in Bilges: These sponges can significantly reduce and/ or eliminate discharge of oils and fuels. Many types of sponges are available that absorb fuel and oil, but not water. Absorbent sponges should always be kept on hand while a vessel is being fueled in a marina or harbor. In areas where the use of bilge water separation devices are mandatory, such devices should be used in place of sponges.
When Applicable, Use Non-Toxic Antifouling Paints on Boat Hulls: International laws are beginning to ban commonly used antifouling paints. These paints are known to contain biocides and heavy metals that can negatively affect both human health and the marine environment. Less harmful antifouling paints are now commercially available, including paints that are made from biodegradable substances and are significantly less toxic than past products.
Use Biodegradable Cleaning Agents: Several commercial non-toxic biodegradable cleaning agents are now available that reduce the amount of toxic pollutants and chemicals that boats release into the environment.
Avoid Onboard Refrigeration Units That Use Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): CFCs have been shown to cause damage to the earth’s ozone layer, which filters out harmful ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun. As a light-sensitive animal, corals can be damaged by significant increases in UV exposure. Use newer air conditioning units that use special gas mixtures without CFCs in their chemical composition.
Avoid Pumping Oily Bilge Water or Other Hazardous Substances into the Sea: Unless the boat is in danger, wait to pump out oily bilge water, particularly when you are near sea-bottom habitat. Avoid using detergents or emulsifiers as bilge cleaners. Avoid draining black (toilet) and grey (kitchen, shower and wash basin) water directly into the ocean at harbors or coastal visitor’s sites.