Monday, June 28, 1999 Published at 18:13 GMT 19:13 UK
Boats' bottoms damage marine life
Large ships carry pollution into the deep ocean
By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby
The anti-fouling paint most widely used by shipping fleets around the world is said to be causing damage to many species in every ocean.
A report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) says the use of the paint, which contains tributyltin (TBT), means that "the world's oceans are being covered in a lethal coat of toxic ship paint".
"Marine life from all around the world, including commercial fish species, is being poisoned, and human health is threatened. All forms of marine life are affected, from molluscs to mammals."
WWF says the report, "the most comprehensive study of its kind", has gathered scientific evidence on the global presence of TBT pollution, which it says persists "on a massive scale".
'Gender bender' chemicals
TBT is one of the so called "gender bender" hormone-disrupting chemicals - it mimics the effects of sex hormones - and causes damage to the nervous and reproductive systems. In United Kingdom waters, it has been blamed for causing female dog whelks to develop penises.
Bird species affected include the oystercatcher, the Japanese cormorant, a north Pacific albatross, and guillemots in the Baltic. The report says "laboratory tests have found that TBT reduces hatching success and fertility".
In every region tested for TBT, fish were found to be contaminated, including tuna and sharks in the Mediterranean, sea bream, sea bass and Atlantic salmon. High levels have been found in many Baltic fish, especially flounder, herring, eel and sea trout.
The report says the liking for fish in Poland is a particular cause for concern. "Consumption of roach is leading Poles to exceed the tolerable daily intake of TBT.
Concentrations of residues have also been found in many fish samples collected from local markets in South and South East Asia and Australia. WWF says organotins (the group of chemicals which includes TBT) can cause hormone damage in humans, and disrupt the functioning of cells which fight infection.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is the UN body responsible for regulating international shipping from a safety and environmental impact perspective.
The IMO's marine environment protection committee meets from 28 June to 2 July, and will discuss developing a legal means to enforce an agreement last year to introduce a voluntary ban on the use of TBT paint on ships' hulls by 2003.
"Organotins are now being recorded in wildlife at the top of food chains which spend their lives in deeper water well away from crowded shipping lanes and coastal maritime traffic."
Not all paint manufacturers nor all shipping companies support the idea of a global ban on TBT use by 2003. But WWF says alternative anti-fouling paints are available. And Japan has already brought in a complete ban on the use of paints based on organotins.