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
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
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
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
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
"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
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."