Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Porn kingpin takes aim at marine pests

Steve Crow has declared war on the Mediterranean fanworm. Photo / Natalie Slade
Steve Crow has declared war on the Mediterranean fanworm. Photo / Natalie Slade

He's known for putting boobs and bikes on Kiwi streets, but now porn kingpin Steve Crow is on a new crusade - ridding New Zealand harbours of invasive pests.

While agreeing he's "unfortunately" more associated with the sex industry and his Boobs on Bikes promotions, Mr Crow is also a trained marine biologist and believes he has found a high-tech solution to cleaning pest-fouled harbours.

Mr Crow, who holds a master's degree from Auckland University, began his career studying the effect of marine growth on oil rigs before getting into the adult movie business.

Two cases of spinal bends forced him out of the water - but he has never moved on from the passion for marine biology that goes back to boyhood.

With business partner Simon Johnston, he has formed DSS Ecotech, which has been given permission by Waterfront Auckland to trial ultrasonic anti-fouling equipment in the Viaduct Harbour as a measure against Mediterranean fanworm (Sabella spallanzanii).

Recently discovered to have spread to Northland and Tauranga harbours, the pest grows in thick mats that smother native plants and animals and interfere with boat equipment, aquaculture and water recreation.

It is feared that if left unchecked, the species and the related Australian fanworm could inflict serious economic and ecological damage in other coastal waters.

Mr Crow told the Herald his company held the New Zealand rights to what he considered the most powerful and technically advanced systems of their type in the world, and which had proven effective at killing the pests around the world.

He said the technology emitted ultrasonic waves through the water, shattering the insides of aquatic pests and making it impossible for them to settle on surfaces.

Also used to combat sea lice in salmon farms, it was designed to be environmentally friendly and harmless to marine life and animals.

Mr Crow said it had been tested against Australian fanworm in the upmarket Whitianga Waterways, where a low-power system cleared the pest from the hull of a 21m launch.

Last week, the technology was being readied in an Auckland warehouse for use in the Viaduct.

"If we can prove it works in a small area on the Mediterranean fanworm, then we are looking at a much wider roll-out ... [Waterfront Auckland] are very serious about getting rid of this pest," he said.

Similar proposals have just been made to Northland and Shell Todd for its Taranaki oil field.

"This is hugely exciting and it will be fantastic if we can kill the Mediterranean fanworm," Mr Crow said. "And I believe we can."

Crow's crusade

The pest: Mediterranean fanworm is an invasive pest that competes with native aquatic species for space and nutrients, and can interfere with boat equipment and aquaculture once established. It has been discovered in Auckland, Lyttelton and Whangarei, and in Tauranga and Coromandel this year.

The tech: Underwater transducers emit a fluctuating ultrasonic wave that creates air bubbles on surfaces of substances, making it impossible for the pests to settle. Prolonged exposure also explodes air-filled pockets within the adult fanworms, killing them.

- NZ Herald

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