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Great Lakes Article:

Stowaway eggs pose lakes risk

By Story and photo Sharon Hill Star County Reporter

Thousands of tiny stowaway eggs could bring the next troublesome invader into the Great Lakes, researchers have found.

For the first time, a University of Windsor biology student has proved that the eggs of small invertebrates in the holds of ships can hatch.

PhD student Sarah Bandoni, working with biologist Hugh MacIsaac at the university's Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, hatched eggs in the lab after taking them from the bottom of freighters last year.

"These eggs can dry up, they can be boiled, frozen and once conditions get back to ideal happy conditions, these eggs will hatch," she said. "It's an excellent mechanism for transplanting invasive species."

Current regulations were designed to make sure live foreign species in ballast water weren't accidentally transported into the Great Lakes.

Bandoni said freighters do empty ballast water before entering the Great Lakes, but some water and sediment is always left behind. A centimetre of water in the bottom of a giant ship can equal tonnes of water.

Freighters can take in water from the Great Lakes once in the lakes but when they leave, some ships will take on cargo and dump some water. That means the eggs could be stirred up and released or the ship could be a giant incubator where the eggs have already been hatched. Then live species would be dumped in the lake.

Bandoni boarded 20 ships last year to get samples of muck and water from the holds of ships. She takes the tiny eggs that can be microscopic to about a millimetre in size and waits to see what will hatch.

"It's like a box of chocolates," she said borrowing a line from Forrest Gump. "You never know what you'll get."

Mostly the 24-year-old student finds tiny invertebrates -- animals without backbones. More research is needed to see if any of the water contained exotic species not already found in the Great Lakes.

In a 40-gram water sample, Bandoni said she's found as many as 1,600 eggs of one species. Her experiments showed as many as 90 per cent of some eggs hatched.

She even tried leaving the eggs in the dark to simulate the hold of a ship but found they still hatched.

This year she'll focus on seeing how much salt the eggs can take. Ships with ballasts of salt water weren't considered a threat because regulators thought anything used to salt water wouldn't survive in fresh water.

Uninvited guests

More than 160 invasive species from plants and fish to tiny invertebrates have been unwittingly introduced into the Great Lakes. Scientists want to make sure something as problematic as the zebra mussel doesn't get in next.

Exotic species are a problem because they can be costly to battle and can change the ecosystem of the lake. For example, the commercial fishery could be threatened if an invading invertebrate started competing with small fish for food.

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