Dr. Maria Salta. Image credit: University of Portsmouth, UKDr. Maria Salta. Image credit: University of Portsmouth, UKA University of Portsmouth, U.K., marine biologist is looking to nature for solutions to problems plaguing both the environment and the shipping industry.

Environmental microbiologist Dr. Maria Salta has been studying whales, sharks, butterflies and lotus leaves in an attempt to mimic their self-cleaning mechanisms. Dr. Salta hopes to apply that research to treating the hulls of ships and other manmade objects at sea to prevent the build-up of slime (biofilms) and the clinging of barnacles, algae and mussels.

Current anti-fouling methods are both expensive (costing the U.S. Navy $56 million a year) and contribute to increased carbon emissions.

By discovering what it is that gives sharks, whales, butterflies and lotus leaves the ability to “shrug” off biofilms, Dr. Salta hopes to replicate the effect. This could save the shipping industry millions of dollars annually and help save the planet with an environmentally-friendly anti-fouling solution.

Dr. Salta is scheduled to present her work at events across the globe this summer.