Lakes plan aims at invasive species
By Dan Egan, firstname.lastname@example.org
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published January 16, 2008
U.S. operators of the St. Lawrence Seaway are proposing that oceangoing ships destined for U.S. waters of the Great Lakes take new measures to reduce the likelihood of introducing more invasive species.
The regulations would require all oceangoing vessels to flush their ship-steadying ballast tanks in mid-ocean. The idea is to use saltwater to kill any unwanted freshwater hitchhikers before they get a chance to jump ship in the Great Lakes, the world's largest freshwater system. The Great Lakes are home to more than 180 non-native species.
The United States requires seaway-bound oceangoing vessels to exchange their ballast water in mid-sea. But most ships are exempt from those regulations because they are loaded with cargo and, consequently, do not officially carry ballast water in their tanks. Those tanks, though technically empty, can still carry residual puddles of water and muck, both of which have been found to be teeming with life.
The proposed rule, which would take effect this year when the seaway reopens after its annual winter shutdown, requires that even empty ballast tanks be flushed with saltwater.
Canada requires such flushes for ships headed into the Great Lakes. The U.S. has only recommended that vessel operators take such precautions.
"These new, tougher ballast-water regulations will protect the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway ecosystem and permit vital marine commerce to flourish," U.S. seaway boss Collister Johnson Jr. said in a news release Wednesday.
Invasive species have become a huge problem for the Great Lakes, and a new one is discovered, on average, about every six months. Research shows that the overwhelming majority of invasions in the past few decades have come via oceangoing vessels. They include zebra and quagga mussels as well as round gobies, a bug-eyed fish that feasts on the eggs of native Great Lakes fish species.
Conservationists were pleased with the move, but they said more needed to be done. They have been lobbying for years for a law requiring ballast-treatment systems aboard vessels. Legislation to accomplish just that is pending in Congress, but many conservationists said they didn't believe it was tough enough to protect the lakes from the next invader.
"We need to fix and pass federal ballast-water legislation," said Jennifer Nalbone of Great Lakes United.
Scientists who study the problem said the new rule should go a long way in protecting the lakes.
"It's a major advance, and I applaud them for doing that," said Hugh MacIsaac, a biologist at the University of Windsor in Ontario.