Postgraduate research opportunity

Managing the environmental impact of antifouling biocides in recreational marinas through stakeholder engagement

Sustainable Transitions - Governance, Ecological Management and Society - Leverhulme Doctoral Training Programme 2024-25


Project area title: Managing the environmental impact of antifouling biocides in recreational marinas through stakeholder engagement

Course: Applicants wanting to undertake this research project should apply for a PhD in Biological Sciences

Funding: The University of Essex is offering six PhD research scholarships for students to participate in one of our Sustainable Transitions DTP projects.


This is an opportunity to conduct fully funded interdisciplinary research under the Sustainable Transitions Leverhulme Doctoral Training Programme at the University of Essex.

Antifouling coatings protect vessels from marine biofouling (growth on the hull), which would otherwise increase fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. However, most antifouling coatings contain toxins that are released into the environment. While commercial vessels conform to strict rules, recreational boats are less regulated with regard to fouling-control practices. This project will work with local stakeholders to understand the release, environmental fate and impact of antifouling biocides from small craft using a combination of fieldwork, laboratory assays and human behavioural science. Best- practice guidelines will then be developed through stakeholder collaboration.

Interdisciplinary focus

Fundamentally, the project combines life and political sciences to better understand how knowledge of environmental technologies can impact public opinion and behaviour. The project will be based in Dr Aldred’s laboratory in the School of Life Sciences, but will be run in collaboration with the Department of Government at the University of Essex. This partnership recognises the importance of public opinion in policy development in democratic countries, and that solutions are only as effective as their implementation. Human adaptation is necessary for adoption of any new technology, and we will work with communities to understand entrenched behaviours relating to use of the marine environment.

Training and support

You will be supported through the Sustainable Transitions training programme which provides initial training in interdisciplinary research methods, training in the secondary discipline within the project area, and ongoing training throughout the duration of the programme. All doctoral scholars benefit from the support of Proficio, which entitles you to £2,500 that can be used to purchase training courses either within or external to the University. Additionally, all scholars are entitled to an additional £10,000 that can be used to cover research costs and further training. Doctoral scholars are encouraged to audit/attend University masters and degree level courses where appropriate. You will also have the support of the Sustainable Transitions management team as well as your own supervisory team. All Sustainable Transitions scholars will become part of the University of Essex Centre for Environment and Society through which ongoing events and networking opportunities are available.

Person specification

This project would suit applicants with a degree / equivalent in biological or environmental sciences and enthusiasm to actively engage and implement social sciences methodologies. No prior experience of the latter is required, and training will be provided across the sciences and social science elements of the studentship.

Research proposal

The project area is broadly defined, leaving scope for the applicant to develop their own specific research proposal as part of the application. The successful candidate will further develop their proposal in close consultation with the supervisory team.


The primary discipline supervisor takes the lead responsibility for supervising the project. For further detail relating to supervision see the Guidance for Applicants (.pdf) document.

Additional background information

Without antifouling coatings, maritime activities would be limited and costly. Biofouling growth on the hull of a ship significantly reduces vessel efficiency and increases fuel usage. Although smaller in size, recreational craft are more numerous and use similar hull coatings. These coatings are typically formulated around heavy metals, such as copper and zinc, with additional ‘booster biocides’ added to increase their effectiveness against plants (e.g. algae), animals (e.g. barnacles), fungi and microbes. By design, antifouling coatings constantly release toxic metal and organic compounds into the environment, where it is believed they break down rapidly. However, recreational boat users also ‘scrub’ their hulls, an activity prohibited in the commercial sector. This leads to solid paint particles entering the water and sediments, where they can release toxins over a much longer period. These particles also contain layers of paint used historically, which may now be banned due to their harmful environmental effects. So although the paints available to boat owners today are regulated and approved for use around the UK, the mechanisms by which those paints and ‘legacy’ paints can enter the environment are highly variable. The persistence of paint particles in sediments, and the biocide release rate from them, are poorly understood and only limited studies have been conducted into environmental effects. This study aims to understand those effects through laboratory and field studies, and also by gathering behavioural data from boat users. Ultimately it is hoped that by working with stakeholders to generate locally-relevant datasets, boat owners and other users of the marine environment will emerge as willing participants in the development of guidelines, and then policy, to regulate the types of paints and cleaning activities that are undertaken in the local context.

Supervisory team references

  1. Whitworth P, Clare, AS, Finlay JA, Piola RF, Aldred N (2023) Long-term ultraviolet treatment for macrofouling control in northern and southern hemispheres. J. Mar. Sci. Eng. 11:2211
  2. Whitworth P, Aldred N, Reynolds KJ, Plummer J, Duke PW, Clare AS (2022) Importance of duration, duty-cycling and thresholds for the implementation of ultraviolet c in marine biofouling control. Front. Mar. Sci. 8:809011
  3. Bakaki Z and Bernauer T (2018) Do economic conditions affect public support for environmental policy? J. Cleaner Product. 195:66-78
  4. Bakaki Z, Böhmelt T, Ward H (2020) The triangular relationship between public concern for environmental issues, policy output, and media attention. Environment. Politics 29:1157-1177
  5. McLean DL, Ferreira, LC, Benthuysen JA et al. (2022) Influence of offshore oil and gas structures on seascape ecological connectivity. Global Change Bio. 28:3515-3536