Editorial: Stopping invasive species requires stricter policies
Battle Creek Enquirer
Published January 24, 2008
U.S. officials who manage the St. Lawrence Seaway want to require that oceangoing ships flush their ballast tanks with salt water before entering the seaway. While the proposed regulations announced last week are a step forward in helping to stop the invasion of non-native species into the Great Lakes, they actually are just catching up with Canada, which imposed similar policies in 2006.
The public has until Jan. 30 to comment on the proposed U.S. rules, which are scheduled to take effect in late March.
We support the new regulations, but we agree with environmental groups that much more needs to be done to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species.
While many people are familiar with zebra mussels and the damage they have caused since being introduced into the Great Lakes in the 1980s, they are just one of more than 185 non-native species now in the Great Lakes that pose a number of problems and ecological threats. According to the National Wildlife Federation, a new aquatic invasive species is discovered in the Great lakes every 28 weeks. The Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy estimates that invasive species cause $5 billion a year in lost tourism, reduced commercial fishing revenue and increased water and utility bills.
The discharge of ballast water from oceangoing vessels is the primary source of invasive species, and flushing ballast tanks with salt water, while helpful, will not eliminate the problem. Salt-water flushing often fails to completely clean ballast tanks and remove all species.
What is needed are regulations requiring on-board treatment of ballast water before it is discharged into lakes and waterways to ensure that it is free of non-native organisms, pathogens and viruses.
In 2005, Michigan passed a state law requiring oceangoing vessels to seek a permit from the Department of Environmental Quality that certified they have ballast-cleaning devices onboard or agreeing not to discharge ballast water into Michigan ports.
But numerous states and provinces border the Great Lakes, and one state's efforts alone are relatively ineffective in stopping the spread of invasive species. That is why it is important that the United States and Canada work together to impose regulations at a national level that will uphold the environmental integrity of a natural resource as valuable as the Great Lakes.