Tarball Associated Microbes

Tarballs are a type of marine pollutant. They are black-brown in color, sticky, smelly, and oily balls which float on sea surfaces. The important questions are: How do tarballs enter into marine environment? Are tarballs man made or naturally produced? Are tarballs safe or hazardous?

Tarballs are produced naturally as well as by anthropogenic activities. They are majorly formed after an oil spill event in open ocean. Oil spills can happen during transportation of oil through sea route. Release of ballast water is another reason.

The processes involved in tarball formation are known as weathering processes. Weathering is a combination of different processes occurring simultaneously to form the end product, i. e. tarball. These processes include evaporation, microbial degradation, spreading, emulsification, oxidation etc. Sometimes, these tarballs get deposited on beaches due to hurricanes, tropical storms and strong wind currents.

Tarball are generally considered unsafe to marine environment and marine life forms because of their high molecular weight hydrocarbon content, which can affect marine life in different ways. Tarballs also spoil the beauty of tourist beaches, thus negatively affect tourism activities.

Microbial degradation is the major process involved in degradation/ elimination of tarballs from nature, in which tarball-associated microbes play an important role. Microbes associated with tarballs can derive nutrients from the tarball, thus colonise them. It appears microbes such as bacteria and fungi are the key players here.

This website on tarball associated microbes is developed and maintained by Varsha Shinde (Ph.D. student registered with Dept. of Microbiology, Goa University, India) and Belle Damodara Shenoy (Principal Scientist, CSIR-National Institute of Oceanography, India). Varsha can be contacted at shindevarsha941@gmail.com. Belle Shenoy can be contacted at shenoynio@gmail.com .