Uphill battle looms to eradicate
Regulating water in ships' ballasts key to solution
By Tim Martin
Lansing State Journal
It will take a sweeping effort - from international councils
to individuals' actions - to slow the spread of aquatic
invaders in the Great Lakes.
The goal: avoiding another multimillion-dollar problem
like the zebra mussel, which has spread to 20 states since
it first detected in the United States in 1988 in Michigan's
Lake St. Clair.
"Every day that goes by without a solution, we risk
another intruder that could prove as costly as the zebra
mussel,'' said Mike Klepinger of the Michigan Sea Grant
program at Michigan State University.
Aquatic biologists say there isn't enough money or energy
devoted to combat the invasive species - a sentiment echoed
in a 2002 report commissioned by Congress. But several
efforts, large and small, are attempting to curb the spread
of unwanted fish, plants and insects in the Great Lakes:
Global controls. The International Maritime Organization
may consider a new plan to control ships' ballast water,
a leading cause in the spread of invasive species. A diplomatic
conference to discuss the issue, involving several nations,
is planned for February.
There are about 400 cargo-carrying ships that routinely
carry the bulk of commerce from Europe or Asia to the
Federal regulations. U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit,
has introduced a bill that calls for spending more than
$160 million a year on the invasive species issue. The
bill would include $27.5 million for rapid response to
emergencies and $30 million in grants.
Levin's bill would require the Coast Guard to set an
interim standard that would require ships entering a U.S.
port from overseas to reduce the number of living organisms
in ballast tanks by 95 percent. Critics say that would
be a difficult standard to meet, verify and enforce.
The estimated cost of retrofitting an average Great Lakes
ship with better ballast controls is about $500,000. Some
in the shipping business say that investment would not
guarantee the spread of invasive species would be slowed.
A bill in the House, sponsored by U.S. Rep Vern Ehlers,
R-Grand Rapids, has some similar features to the Levin
State initiatives. The Michigan Legislature passed a
law in 2001 requiring the Department of Environmental
Quality to determine the most effective ballast water
control technology available. The law requires ship owners
to tell the state whether their vessels are outfitted
with the latest technology. Those not using the technology
aren't eligible for state loans and grants.
Michigan updated its aquatic nuisance species control
plan last year.
Researchers are studying possible ways to kill the exotic
species in ballast water, including the use of chlorination.
It has been used with mixed results in Australia and California,
killing other species along with the invaders.
In Illinois, officials are considering the use of the
pesticide rotenone to kill Asian carp if they happen to
mass in a Chicago canal near Lake Michigan.
Other initiatives are underway. An example: three types
of beetles are used to eat and limit the growth of purple
loosestrife, a technique that has had some success near
Individual actions. Anglers are urged to clean their
boat hulls and trailers to make sure invasive species
don't hitchhike from one lake to the next. They also should
thoroughly clean bait buckets, clothing and anything else
that comes in contact with lake water.
"Preventative measures are the key,'' said Emily
Finnell, an environmental quality analyst with Michigan's
Office of the Great Lakes.
"It becomes a lot harder to deal with once a species
gets into the system.''