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Great Lakes Article:

Loophole Plagues Invasive Species Program, Coast Guard Concedes
As Shipping Season Comes to A Close, Coalition Urges: “Close Great Lakes to Aquatic Invasive Species”
National Wildlife Federation and Great Lakes United
Published January 18th, 2005

BUFFALO, NY—Days after the U.S. Coast Guard admitted that its program to stop non-native species from entering the Great Lakes had major shortcomings, an international coalition insisted today on the immediate enforcement of existing law to protect the Great Lakes from aquatic invasive species.

“We are calling on the Coast Guard to enforce the National Invasive Species Act and to stop granting exemptions to 80 percent of the ocean-going vessels that enter the Great Lakes claiming that they do not carry ballast,” said Jennifer Nalbone, habitat and biodiversity coordinator for Great Lakes United. “These vessels carry residual water and sediment that can harbor invasive organisms. The Coast Guard has the ability to require these vessels to retain all ballast contents onboard the ship or employ an approved treatment to prevent invasive species introductions. If vessels fail to carry out these protective measures, they should not be granted access into the Great Lakes.”

The U.S. Coast Guard admitted on January 7 in the Federal Register that its ballast water program to protect the Great Lakes from invasive species omits at least 80 percent of ocean-vessels that enter each season. The Coast Guard is now taking the first step to develop a program to address these unregulated vessels.

“The Coast Guard’s program has a loophole big enough to drive a cargo ship through,” said Nalbone. “For years, scientists have known that ships classified as ‘no ballast on board’ carried invaders. While the Coast Guard is addressing this issue now, the lakes desperately needed an effective comprehensive ballast management program 12 years ago. Today, we are calling for immediate enforcement of the stricter regulations the Coast Guard can access.”

Congress authorized the U.S. Coast Guard to implement ballast water regulations in the wake of the zebra mussel invasion and corresponding impacts to the region’s environment and economy. In 1993, the Coast Guard initiated the Great Lakes program, in which any ocean-going vessels equipped with ballast tanks entering the Great Lakes must exchange the tank contents in the open ocean, employ an approved alternative to treat hitchhiking organisms, or retain ballast contents and seal its tanks.

However, a loophole allows more than 80 percent of the oceangoing ships that enter the lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway to escape what policy makers and the public thought were stringent ballast water regulations. Ships heavy with cargo have avoided Great Lakes program requirements by reporting they have “no ballast on board.” In fact, these ships likely harbor live, viable invasive organisms in the residual tons of ballast water and sediments they carry.

“We cannot turn back the clock in preventing the devastating impacts invasive species have wrought on the Great Lakes food web and fishery,” said Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor, Mich. “According to scientists, one of these species – zebra mussels – has caused vast stretches along the bottom of the Great Lakes to become an underwater desert. But we can work to prevent further introductions as quickly as possible. With one new non-native species introduced into the Great Lakes every eight months, we don’t have the luxury of waiting one more shipping season to regulate these vessels.”

To date, the Great Lakes have been invaded by over 170 aquatic species. Since the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959, the number-one pathway of entry for aquatic invasive species into the Great Lakes is through that ballast tanks of ocean-going vessels that import goods like steel and export goods like grain.

Non-native organisms stowaway in vessels’ ballast tanks, which are used to trim and stabilize a vessel during transit. Ships take on water when they are empty of cargo and discharge ballast water – and accompanying sludge and organisms – when goods are loaded.

In July of 2004, Great Lakes United partnered with the Attorneys General of New York, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio and Illinois, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to petition the Coast Guard to bring ships classified as “no ballast on board” into compliance with current law.

On January 7, the Coast Guard acknowledged this loophole in its 12-year-old ballast water program to protect the Great Lakes, and announced it needs to develop a comprehensive program to address vessels classified as “no ballast on board”.

The Coast Guard is collecting public comments and will hold a public hearing on “no ballast on board” management strategies on May 9 in Cleveland, Ohio.

“We are pleased that the U.S. Coast Guard is finally working to address this tremendous flaw in its program,” said Derek Stack, GLU’s executive director. “However, we are also disappointed that the U.S. government is still at square one in dealing with the majority of ocean-vessels that enter these freshwaters. There have been no improvements in protection from contaminated ballast tank contents for twelve shipping seasons.”

Great Lakes United is an international coalition dedicated to preserving and restoring the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River ecosystem. Great Lakes United is made up of member organizations representing environmentalists, conservationists, hunters and anglers, labor unions, community groups, and citizens of the United States, Canada.

Contact: Jennifer Nalbone, Great Lakes United 716-213-0408

Jordan Lubetkin, National Wildlife Federation 734-769-3351

 

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