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Great Lakes Article:

Uphill battle looms to eradicate invaders
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 Great Lakes.

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 bill.

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 Lake Lansing.

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.''

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