Sea Grant Research Aiming To Sink Shipworm Damage

October 10, 1996

For centuries shipworms have feasted their way through wooden vessels, piers, and other structures in salt water, resulting in billions of dollars of damage. Over the last few years, New York City alone has spent over $100 million to brace and wrap plastic around thousands of pilings supporting its most vital piers. Looking to put an end to the carnage, a Delaware Sea Grant study, coordinated by marine molecular biologist Craig Cary, is investigating ways to make wood unpalatable. According to Cary, "An intriguing aspect that could offer enormous possibilities is the shipworm's symbiotic relationship with bacteria that allow it to digest wood. Specifically targeting this bacteria we could arrest the worm's ability to bore." Shipworms, which are actually clams specifically designed for boring, have shown enormous voracity in their destruction. "I've seen posts more perforated than Swiss cheese. Objects once dense and heavy can be crushed with little effort after shipworm infestation," says Cary. Discoveries from Cary's study could lead to the production of a new environmentally-friendly substance that could be applied to wood before submersion. Presently, chemicals used for shipworm protection, such as arsenic, copper and other heavy metals, can leech into surrounding ecosystems, raising concern about harm to non-targeted organisms.

CONTACT: Craig Cary,
Delaware Sea Grant Research Scientist, (O)
302-645-4078, E-MAIL:

National Sea Grant College Program

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