In a recent groundbreaking study, marine fungi’s capability to mitigate oil pollution in the world’s oceans was tested with promising results. This study on bilge water treatment is more relevant than ever, considering that the surge in global shipping traffic is projected to increase tenfold by 2050 (1) (2). Inevitably, this number of barges in the water will escalate oil pollution levels in marine environments worldwide.
The research, completed through the Department of Botany & Microbiology at the College of Science in King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, focused on treating oily bilge water – a mix of water, oil, and grease that accumulates in a ship’s lower compartment. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) have both set standards to protect marine life, including the discharge of this contaminated water. However, the escalated shipping traffic heightens the urgency for more efficient treatment methods for removing contaminants and oil content from sea water.
The study tested five isolated marine fungi microorganisms that were previously identified for their oil removal efficiencies. The fungi were Fusarium magnifereae, Acremonium sp., Emericellopsis sp., Cladosporium sp., and Ceratocystis sp. They were subjected to varying concentrations of crude oil in the bilge water and their efficiency in reducing the oil concentration and overall water toxicity was evaluated.
Results showed compelling success in oily wastewater treatment, particularly in Fusarium magnifereae, which showed the most significant removal of oil and toxicity from the sea water. The tests found that the bilge water had a considerable decrease in crude oil concentration; turbidity, which is another name for cloudy with matter; and biological and chemical oxygen demand.
The study further assessed the treated bilge water’s effect on seed germination, which is a crucial aspect in considering the potential reuse of treated water for irrigation, especially in arid regions like the Arabian Peninsula. The seeds exposed to bilge water treated by Fusarium magnifereae showed a 90% germination rate, which indicates the substantial reduction of phytotoxic compounds.
However, it is worth noting that although these results are promising, the treated bilge water’s crude oil concentration still slightly exceeds the MARPOL environmental protection standards. Nevertheless, the study underscores the potential of using indigenous marine fungi in bioremediation to address the growing issue of oil pollution that has little end in sight.
What’s even more incredible from the study is not just the ability of fungi to remove pollutants from the water, but that the water could be used for irrigation purposes, making it a sustainable practice to adopt. Fungi will save us all, science is learning, but some of us already knew that.