Great Lakes United * Healing Our Waters Coalition * Save The River
Buffalo, N.Y. (MARCH 24) —As the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway prepares to open for its 51st season, conservation groups are once again calling for protections from aquatic invasive species introduced and spread from ballast water of commercial vessels.
“Invasive species continue to take a staggering financial toll on people, businesses and communities,” said Jennifer Nalbone, director of navigation and invasive species for Great Lakes United. “Each year, on the eve of a new shipping season, we call on the nation and the shipping community to slam the door on this problem, because it will only get worse and more costly.”
Invasive species introduced by foreign vessels cost the eight-state region at least $200 million per year in damages and control costs. The No. 1 way non-native species enter the Great Lakes is through ballast water discharge of foreign vessels. Lakers, vessels that never leave the Great Lakes, do not introduce new invasive species from overseas but can spread species from lake to lake. Despite recent progress last year, including a rulemaking proposed by the U.S. Coast Guard, and the emergence of state regulations under the Clean Water Act, sophisticated ballast water treatment and technology has not yet been implemented onboard foreign vessels or lakers. Currently the most stringent regulations for foreign vessels coming to the Great Lakes are two physical methods of management: ballast water exchange, which has been required in the Great Lakes region since 1996, and flushing of empty tanks (for vessels termed “no ballast on board”), which was imposed by Canada in 2006 and the St. Lawrence Seaway in 2008.
The shipping industry is responsible for over 65 percent of invasive species introductions since the opening of the Seaway in 1959. States across the Great Lakes region began passing state laws mandating that foreign ships treat their ballast water after continued failure by the federal government to put in place national ballast water protections. While the pending Coast Guard rule offers some hope for a strong, uniform national program, the rule is not yet finalized. The shipping industry has vigorously challenged in court state regulations to stop invasive species from entering the Great Lakes and has also begun to lobby Congress for loopholes that could delay implementation by lakers of the pending Coast Guard rule.
“For those of us living along the St. Lawrence River, it’s hard to watch the ships start coming in as a new Seaway season starts, knowing that more still needs to be done to clean up ballast tanks,” said Jennifer Caddick, executive director for Save The River. “The shipping industry must do its part by adopting—rather than fighting—solutions that prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species into the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters.”
Stopping aquatic invasive species is a pillar of Great Lakes restoration and economic recovery. The Brookings Institution found that restoring the Lakes will bring the eight-state region at least $2 in economic benefit for every $1 investment. In November 2009 President Obama signed into law the historic Great Lakes Restoration Initiative which allocated $475 million dollars towards lake restoration programs in the eight Great Lakes states. It focuses investments in solutions to control aquatic invasive species, clean up contaminated sediments, restore wetlands and other habitat that protect water quality, prevent flooding, and provide the foundation of the region’s outdoor economy.
“The nation is making great strides to advance Great Lakes restoration and economic recovery,” said Jeff Skelding, campaign director for the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. “Investing in restoration projects now while shutting the door once and for all on invasive species will create jobs and lay the foundation for long-term prosperity.”
For more information:
More information about ways the shipping industry and Seaway can improve their environmental performance: www.abetterseaway.com.
More information on efforts to restore the Great Lakes: www.healthylakes.org
Jennifer Nalbone, Great Lakes United: 716-983-3831; firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff Skelding, Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition: 410-242-2704; email@example.com
Jennifer Caddick, Save The River: 315-686-2010; firstname.lastname@example.org