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Great Lakes Article:

Tiny monsters threaten U.S.
By Les Kjos
United Press International

The Coast Guard and the shipping industry are going after tiny monsters from foreign lands that are costing taxpayers in this country billions of dollars.

The zebra mussel, a freshwater mollusk from southeastern Europe, has infested the Great Lakes and moved down the Mississippi River, damaging intake pipes and water-control structures to the tune of billions of dollars.

A 4-inch Asian green mussel, a saltwater creature from the Indonesia region of the Pacific Ocean, is fouling the filters of a $100-million desalination plant near Tampa, Fla.

The Australian spotted jellyfish -- some of which are as big as basketballs -- has surfaced off both coasts of Florida, and the Caulerpa brachypus algae from the Pacific has coated the ocean bottom off the port of Palm Beach.

And there are more.

Ocean scientists believe most of these creatures have arrived on U.S. shores in ballast water picked up by huge ships in foreign ports and deposited when the ships arrive in the United States.

The most popular suggestion for combating the costly problem is the Coast Guard's proposal to force ships to dump their ballast water 200 miles off the U.S. coast and replace it with relatively creature-free water at sea.

The procedure can be risky for older ships and for certain designs, but they would be exempted.

"If it's too dangerous, they don't have to do it," said Lt. Cmdr. Kathy Moore, chief of the Coast Guard's Environmental Standards Division.

The Coast Guard is holding five public meetings beginning next Monday in New Orleans and winding up in Washington Nov. 7 to discuss the problem and potential solutions. Other hearings will be held Oakland, Calif.; Cleveland; and Norfolk, Va.

Moore said, "Animals and organisms both -- floating plankton, spoors, larval forms of even fish -- are brought on board with the ballast.

"Ships increasingly have more ballast because they are larger and faster. Those organisms are surviving the trip, so the number of organisms moving from port to port have increased over a number of years," she said.

Moore calls the zebra mussel the "poster child" of the phenomena. She said it arrived in 1988 or a little before that from the Black Sea.

"It has become quite the nuisance," she said. "It's in 22 states by now, causing economic impact in all of them. It's not only fouling the bottom, it's fouling structures and water intakes along the shores of the Great Lakes. It's clinging to boats and docks, helping to sink buoys, disrupting filter feeders. The ecosystem is a mess."

She said one of the byproducts is that the water in the Great Lakes is cleaner than it was, but the price was too great.

She said the shipping community understands the problem and supports the solution.

They are being careful with their backing, however.

The Shipping Industry Ballast Water Coalition is calling for measures that maximize consistency among domestic and international requirements.

The coalition wants it to be "an economically achievable, biologically meaningful and clearly defined ballast water management performance standards."

The Coast Guard hopes in future years to come up with a standard, defining what ballast water can contain before discharge.

"Eventually, we're looking to have a ballast water standard -- setting a maximum," Moore said.

She said that would entail treating ballast water, and that would involve new equipment and higher costs.

"The shipping community is not going to be in favor of treated water ballast exchange."

She also pointed out that most cargo ships don't travel more than 200 miles from land. They could be exempt.

The International Maritime Organization, a U.N. agency known as the IMO, is also working on an international policy on ballast water.

The agency is hoping to hold a diplomatic conference early next year to approve a new ballast water agreement establishing a single standard for ballast water.

It might remove, kill or inactivate all species larger than a designated measurement.

The draft called for 95 percent removal, kill or inactivation of certain species in ballast water, but it is so hard to determine that the requirement has been removed from the draft.

Both houses of Congress are considering bills for creation of the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act, but the House has two versions and the Senate one.

"The IMO Marine Environmental Protection Committee's efforts this summer, and the possibility of an IMO diplomatic convention in 2004 to approve a new international convention on this issue indicate that a clear and effective regulatory regime for this difficult issue may be developed soon," said a statement by the World Shipping Council.

"The best option is an international regime so they would exchange ballast at every opportunity," Moore said. "That's being worked on by the IMO at international conferences and hopefully they will approve a standalone ballast water treaty."

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