Action to demonstrate the harmful impact of TBT. Effective communication strategies between scientists and policy makers to assist in policy development

LIFE98 ENV/NL/000199

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Contact details:

Project Manager: J.P. DR. BOON
Tel: 31-222/36 94 66
Fax: 31-222/31 96 74
Email: boon @nioz.nl

Project description:


Marine paints often contain potent biocides such as TBT (tributyltin) to prevent attachment of organisms to ship hulls. TBT leaches into the marine environment, accumulates in sediment and biota, and has been shown to cause serious adverse effects in non-target organisms. An indicator of TBT contamination in the marine environment is the development of imposex (masculinisation of females) in marine snails, resulting in reproductive failure and decline of populations. Although in 1989 the EU banned the use of TBT on pleasure yachts and there has been recovery in some areas, recent studies have shown that TBT remains present in marine sediments as well as a continuing decline in snail populations. In the Netherlands and some other countries the strategy of establishing direct contact between scientists and policy makers, has resulted in strategic steps being taken in maritime policy of the IMO-MEPC ( Marine Environmental Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organization), such as the preparation of a global ban on organotins like biocide in antifouling paints. In the South of Europe, however, knowledge of the ecological threat of TBT is much more limited. Unless there exists growing pressure from the whole of Europe to enforce stricter regulation, the adverse effects of TBT will continue to build up producing major impact on the marine environment and unknown effects on the food chain. There is therefore a need to make policy makers more aware of the problems at a European level. One strategy for achieving this is by encouraging scientists to become more proactive and to aid policy change through direct links with policy makers and with the general public.


The project intended to support the development of preventive environmental policies by demonstrating the adverse impact of TBT and by showing that: 'Direct and flexible communication based on mutual understanding between scientists and policy makers stimulates the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental policies'. Marine environmental impact of TBT from anti-fouling paints was taken as a case study. In the project, expertise would be transferred to Italy, Spain and Portugal, through the development of three task areas: 1) The Development of communication strategies between policy makers and key target groups: communication tools would be tested and policy makers informed and invited to give feed back. Activities with key target groups like local authorities, TBT user groups and the general public would also be carried out and evaluated. 2) Field Studies on the status of marine snail populations in the continental shelf seas west coast of the Iberian Peninsula and in the Mediterranean: sediments and snail tissues would be analyzed for TBT to demonstrate the relation between TBT contamination and health of snail populations. Shell damage by benthic fishing practices would also be assessed as a potential contributing factor 3) Chemical Analysis of Organotin Compounds. An intercomparison exercise would be evolved, enabling the chemical analysis of organotin compounds in sediment and biota. The expected results from the project would be increased awareness on the part of policy makers and target groups of the implications of TBT and increased support for a global ban. It also expected to increase the awareness of scientists in the different countries to the use of the precautionary principle


The main result of the project was an increasing dialogue between scientists, policy makers, relevant organizations (like IMO and the paint industry), which was expected to result in the world-wide ban on the use of TBT paints for ships in 2003. Ahead of these juridical changes, three multinational paint manufacturers are currently marketing TBT free paints, with the project playing a key role in this process. The environmental benefits of this results are expected to be the reduction of TBT marine contamination and a reverse in the decline of marine snails and reproductive failure. The main elements to the strategy was the development of a joint scientific programme between N and S countries, transfer of expertise and the opening up of communication channels to the outside world. The Communication strategy was focused around the organization of meetings, seminars and conferences firstly between scientists and the project network and then with invited policy makers at National and EU level and targeted organizations: paint industry and ship users, authorities and NGO´s. These were backed up by considerable media coverage, through press releases, radio and TV coverage. The project web site (www.nioz.nl/projects/tbt) provided both internal project communication and publicized the progress and events. A questionnaire was also circulated to key organizations indicating the degree of knowledge around TBT. The scientific demonstration programme involved joint scientific cruise trips to assess shipping densities as a measure of TBT and sampling TBT content and impact on Snail develoment through a variety of known methods. The processes of the 3 participating laboratories were also compared and calibrated. Although the scientific technical and methodogical approach are not innovative, the inclusion of a dynamic communication strategy focused on politicians can considered to be, and is highly transferable. The project was influential in the establishment of co-operation within the remit of IMO between southern and northern European States and in establishment of effective communication channels between scientists and policy makers in the partner countries.The communication model has potential to be developed as a transferable strategy for the role of science in environmental planning. As such, it represents a fist attempt to integrate scientific communication in decision-making processes for the marine environment as preparatory action for EU environmental policies. A contribution was also made to understanding the behaviour of contaminants in offshore seas, in sampling and analysis methodology and in development of effective communication skills and pathways. Although the results of the field and case study are not conclusive over the direct link between the TBT concentrations found, its origin and its effects, the project should be taken into consideration by the Commission in relation to further policy making on the use of TBT.


Environmental issues addressed:


Habitats - Marine
Risk management - Pollution control
Services & Commerce - Transportation - Storage


information system‚  environmental awareness‚  marine pollution‚  pollution prevention‚  paint

Target EU Legislation

  • Water
  • Directive 76/464 - Pollution caused by certain dangerous substances discharged into the aquatic e ...

Natura 2000 sites

Not applicable



Coordinator NIOZ (Nederlands Instituut voor Onderzoek der Zee)
Type of organisation Research institution
Description The Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) was founded in July 1876 as the Marine Zoological Station and is presently one of the major European oceanographic institutes. NIOZ is a research institute under the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). Its mission is to pursue multidisciplinary marine research related to phenomena and mechanisms in coastal and shelf seas as well as the open ocean and involves close cooporation between physicists, chemists, geologists and biologists.
Partners CaTO Marine Ecosystems (The Netherlands) The Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), the Free University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands) The Department of Chemistry and Material Sciences, University of Huelva (DQCMH – Spain) The Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and the Environment (ENEA-Italy) University of Porto, Dept. of Zoology and Anthropology (Portugal)


Project reference LIFE98 ENV/NL/000199
Duration 01-DEC-1998 to 09-FEB -2001
Total budget 676,540.45 €
EU contribution 329,827.37 €
Project location Asturias(España) Umbria(Italia) Noord-Holland(Nederland) Algarve(Portugal)


Read more:

Project web site Final Report
Project web site MEPC 46/Inf.2 Report presented on TBT levels and findings of imposex in offshore waters
Project web site Internet Site
Publication: Layman report Layman report


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version