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Great Lakes Article:

EDITORIAL - Stronger defense against invaders needed for lakes

The Ohio News Messenger

A toughening stand by Great Lakes states officials could go a long way toward helping to stem the tide of invasive species that plague the inland waterways. Six Great Lakes states have petitions to the U.S. Coast Guard to stop oceangoing ships from dumping invasive mussels, fish and other organisms into U.S. waters. In pushing for action, state officials correctly point out that species from foreign ports disrupt the Great Lakes ecology and cause billions of dollars in damage.

The states' attorneys general have asked the U.S. Coast Guard to close a loophole that allows most ships from abroad to enter the Great Lakes without doing anything to remove foreign species from their ballast tanks. They also filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a lawsuit by conservation and environmental groups. That suit seeks to force the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate ships' ballast water discharges in U.S. waters.

In recent years invasive species have increasingly dominated native creatures, sometimes destroying those that prey on them, including tens of thousands of migrating loons and other waterfowl. A recent analysis found that 40 percent of the 179 foreign species discovered in the Great Lakes have entered the waters since 1959. That's a considerable change in the life of the lakes. And most of the invaders are believed to have arrived in the ballast tanks of ships.

The tanks are filled with water, often from foreign ports, to keep ships stable when they carry no cargo. That water is discharged as the ship takes on cargo or faces changing conditions. Fish, mussels and plants contained in these discharges have become common in the Great Lakes and many say they have multiplied at rapid rate, overwhelming the local ecosystem.

Current regulations exempt most vessels that enter the Great Lakes because they have empty tanks. Yet these ships can transport potential invaders in residual water and mud and discharge them when taking on and releasing ballast water in Great Lakes ports, scientists say. The states' petition says several technologies to kill potential invaders look promising, including filtration, oxygen removal, chemical treatment, ozone, heat, ultrasound and ultraviolet light.

But the continued dumping of contaminated ballast makes the fight to clean up the lakes difficult. It makes sense to keep the exotic species out of the lakes rather than having to continually fight them after they have arrived.

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