Biofouling and ballast water - advice for vessel owners

Biofouling and ballast water can introduce new marine pests and diseases, or spread established ones to South Australian waters. Vessel owners can help prevent the spread of established marine pest species and diseases by having good vessel cleaning practices in place.


Biofouling, or fouling, is the accumulation of aquatic microorganisms, algae, plants and animals on vessel hulls and submerged surfaces.

There are national biofouling management guidelines for:

Ballast water

Ballast water is water carried in a ship’s ballast tanks to improve stability, balance and trim. It is taken up or discharged when cargo is unloaded or loaded, or when a ship needs extra stability in foul weather.

When ships take on ballast water, plants and animals that live in the ocean are also picked up. Discharging this ballast water releases these organisms into new areas where they can become marine pests.

PIRSA is working with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to develop domestic ballast water arrangements. Freshwater should be used for ballast water when practical. Commercial seagoing vessels must follow the Commonwealth legislation and guidelines in relation to ballast water exchange.

There are also designated areas for ballast water exchange.

Marine pests

Marine pest species threatens:

  • the sustainability of South Australia coastal industries
  • commercial and recreational fishing
  • aquaculture
  • tourism
  • the health of the marine environment.

Over 250 exotic marine organisms have been introduced into Australian waters by vessels of all types, from yachts to commercial ships. Up to 75 per cent of these are likely to have arrived as biofouling organisms attached to the external and internal surfaces of vessels.

Ballast water also poses a risk for translocating marine pests or diseases. Once exotic marine organisms are introduced into Australia, they may establish as marine pests can be spread to other regions and states by similar means.

Marine pests are virtually impossible to eradicate once established. They multiply rapidly, compete with native species and devastate the environment and the industries that rely on that environment. Marine pests can also be hosts for infectious and notifiable diseases which can impact our seafood industries.

Good Vessel Cleaning practices

  • Clean hulls before leaving for new destinations. By cleaning your vessel at a registered slipway you reduce the risk of marine pests being transported into the state through vessel biofouling.
  • Regularly inspect and clean areas prone to biofouling. Check areas including niche sections such as internal sea water systems, anodes, docking strips, sea chests, pipe openings, propellers, shafts and rudders.
  • Remember to dry and or maintain your equipment. Allow your boat 48 hours to dry and remove entangled seaweed and other organisms from ropes, anchors, buoys and other equipment etc.
  • Re-apply or apply suitable antifouling coating, including to niche areas, well within the lifespan of the coating.

Benefits for vessel owners

Good vessel maintenance not only prevents the introduction of new marine pests and the spread of those already here, it also provides a number of other benefits including:

  • increased vessel performance and speed
  • reduced day-to day running costs (lower fuel consumption)
  • reduced maintenance costs
  • extended life of vessel and gear
  • protection of our marine and estuarine environments for future generations.

Your obligations

It is illegal to bring in exotic or notifiable aquatic pests and diseases into South Australia. Offences exist under the Fisheries Management Act 2007 and Livestock Act 1997, and penalties of up to $250 000 for a body corporate or $120,000 for individuals may apply.

PIRSA Fisheries and Aquaculture may also order a vessel known to carry exotic species (including noxious species) out of state waters or immediately out of the water to be cleaned of exotic species if it poses a risk to South Australia.

EPA - Code of Practice for Vessel and Facility Management (Marine and Inland Waters)

South Australia’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA) also has in place recommended practices for biofouling and ballast water. Download the Code of practice for vessel and facility management (marine and inland waters) from the EPA website.

The Code of Practice is designed to assist in the compliance with the general environmental duty and therefore fulfill obligations under the Environment Protection Act 1993 and associated environment protection policies.

This code of practice applies to people, organisations and agencies that:

  • own, operate and use vessels
  • vessel construction and maintenance facilities (including slipways and launch facilities)
  • and vessel storage facilities, including:
    • dry dock boat yards
    • marinas
    • moorings
    • boat and yacht clubs

    within or adjacent to the state waters of South Australia.

More information

Page Last Reviewed: 26 Feb 2018
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