Shipworm threatens archaeological treasures

January 11, 2010
This is the shipworm Teredo navalis. Credit: University of Gothenburg

The dreaded shipworm is moving into the Baltic Sea, threatening artefacts of the area's cultural heritage. Researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, suspect that the unfortunate spread is due to climate change, and are currently involved in an EU project to determine which archaeological remains are at risk.

The shipworm is capable of completely destroying large maritime archaeological finds in only 10 years, and while it has avoided the Baltic Sea in the past, since it does not do well in low salinity water, it can now be spotted along both the Danish and German Baltic Sea coasts.

Malmö landmark infested

'The shipworm has for example attacked shipwrecks from the 1300s off the coast of Germany, and we are also starting to see its presence along the Swedish coast, for example at the Ribersborg cold bath house in Malmö,' says Christin Appelqvist, doctoral student at the Department of Marine Ecology, University of Gothenburg.

Effect of climate change

Appelqvist and her colleagues believe that the development may be due to . In short, the increased may help the shipworms to become adapted to lower salinity. The group is part of the EU project WreckProtect, a cooperative effort to assess which archaeological treasures are at risk. The project includes researchers from Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, as well as experts from France and Germany.

The shipworm can survive a salinity of 4-6 practical salinity unit (PSU) for short periods of time (the salinity of the Stockholm archipelago is around 5 PSU), but needs at least 8 PSU to be able to reproduce. Credit: University of Gothenburg

Covering the shipwrecks

One of the objectives is to develop methods to protect the shipwrecks, for example by covering them with geotextile and bottom sediment, and another is to try to predict to which areas the shipworm is likely to spread in the future. The researchers say there are some 100 000 well-preserved shipwrecks in the .

'Around 100 wrecks are already infested in the Southern Baltic, but yet it hasn't even spread past Falsterbo. We know it can survive the salinity of the Stockholm archipelago, although it needs water with higher salinity than that to be able to reproduce,' says Appelqvist.

Explore further: Warmer climate not the cause of oxygen deficiency in the Baltic Sea

Related Stories

Rapid changes in the winter climate

August 14, 2009

The Baltic Sea winter climate has changed more in the last 500 years than previously thought. Research at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, shows that our part of the world has experienced periods of both milder and colder ...

Baby seals dying in Baltic Sea

March 12, 2008

German conservationists said a warm winter has left hundreds of baby seals dying of cold and starvation in the Baltic Sea.

Ticks challenge climate theory

June 8, 2007

As key players in the spread of disease ticks aren’t exactly man’s best friend but, according to Oxford University scientists, they may offer a vital clue that climate change is not to blame for an upsurge in many human ...

Recommended for you

Study shows how giraffe assassin bugs outwit spider prey

October 26, 2016

(—A biologist at Macquarie University in Australia has discovered the secret behind the giraffe assassin's ability to catch and kill spiders in their webs. In his paper published on the open access site Royal Society ...

New analysis of big data sheds light on cell functions

October 26, 2016

Researchers have developed a new way of obtaining useful information from big data in biology to better understand—and predict—what goes on inside a cell. Using genome-scale models, researchers were able to integrate ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.