City backs ballast restrictions; Move is intended to protect lakes
Published May 02, 2007
Sarnia is asking the federal government to take immediate action to protect the Great Lakes from invasive alien species.
Council unanimously endorsed a letter from the Georgian Bay Association to the federal Environment Ministry calling for emergency regulations restricting ballast water discharge from ships.
The regulations would require all transoceanic vessels entering the Great Lakes to treat their ballast water and sediments to kill stowaway pathogens and invasive species.
"I think we have to do all that we can to support the ecosystems of the Great Lakes," said Councillor Bev MacDougall. "It's one of those things that I think takes a united front."
MacDougall said it is important for Sarnia to participate in the lobby effort to protect the health of the Great Lakes and slow the spread of invasive species.
The local ecosystem has mostly been affected by the introduction of gobies, sea fleas, spiny water fleas and zebra mussels, said Steve Paulovics, president of the Bluewater Anglers.
Zebra mussels are robbing the water of nutrients, while gobies have "taken over" the bottom of the St. Clair River and the southern basin of Lake Huron, he said.
Paulovics applauded Sarnia's support for immediate government action.
"Until we can get wide-sweeping decontamination of (oceangoing) and domestic ships, the problem is not going to go away and it's just going to get worse," he said.
He noted domestic ships also contribute to the problem, often transporting contaminated ballast water from one lake into another. At a Great Lakes conference in Windsor last year, Dr. Hugh MacIsaac, chair of Invasive Species Research at the University of Windsor, said the Great Lakes has one of the highest rates of new invasive species anywhere in the world, with one new "invader" discovered every seven months.
About 75 per cent of new species arrive by ship.
At that time, MacIsaac said the issue is one that governments need to address before new species arrive, since it's generally too late once they're here.
"Unfortunately, government agencies are very reactive rather than proactive. They don't start to address the issue until after the dam has burst," he said.
Mary Muter, environment chair for the Georgian Bay Association, also welcomed Sarnia's support.
"I think there needs to be growing support for this. The more pressure we can put on our politicians, the better," Muter told The Observer. "It's a question of how bad do we want to let this get before our government finally decides to take the appropriate action?"
The group wants interim emergency regulations enacted immediately, to remain in effect until 2009. At that time, international ballast water discharge standards will be adopted for all vessels entering the Great Lakes, as well as the required use of onboard ballast water treatment technologies.
The State of Michigan enacted a law requiring freighters to sterilize their ballast water before discharging it into the state's waters.
The state is now facing a lawsuit from a shipping coalition, which says the law makes unreasonable demands and violates the U.S. Constitution by restraining interstate commerce.