Boat paint to blame for Norfolk Broads' desolation

One of the main culprits behind an environmental catastrophe that desolated one of Britain's most important wildlife habitats has finally been identified in a study led by researchers from UCL (University College London) and Acroloxus Wetlands Consultancy Ltd, Canada.

In the current issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology, they reveal that introduction of the compound tributyltin (TBT) as a biocide in boat paint in the 1960s resulted in a dramatic and sudden loss of aquatic vegetation from most of the 50 or so Norfolk Broads lakes.

At the time, scientists pointed the finger at contamination from sewage works and fertiliser run-off from farmland, despite suggestions from the local community that the burgeoning leisure boating industry might be to blame.

Though the use of TBT was banned in freshwater systems in the UK in 1987, the researchers say 40 years on from TBT's introduction the fragile ecosystem remains shattered despite expensive attempts to restore it.

Dr Carl Sayer, of the UCL Environmental Change Research Centre, who co-led the study, says: "For too long TBT has been neglected as a driver of environmental destruction in freshwater wetlands and even though it is no longer in use in UK inland waterways, TBT contamination and its negative effects are still being reported all over the world.

"Real concerns have been raised about TBT derived from industrial and ship breaking activities in several major river systems including the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Yangtze all of which are connected to shallow lakes. In the case of the Yangtze, the linked shallow lakes are some of the largest in the world and, like the Broads, have experienced problems with plant loss on a large scale."

TBT was originally designed for use on the hulls of large ocean-going ships to reduce the build-up of barnacles. Since the 1970s it has been linked to a host of negative effects in the marine environment includ

Contact: Judith H Moore
University College London

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