Great Lakes United * National Wildlife Federation * Save The River
As Seaway Opens, Groups Call for Strong Coordinated Action to Stop Invasive Species
Buffalo, N.Y. (MARCH 21) —In what is turning out to be a pivotal year in the battle to protect the Great Lakes and other waters from the onslaught of invasive species, conservation organizations are calling for strong, coordinated action by the U.S. and Canadian governments to stop ships from dumping ballast water filled with harmful biological pollution.
The call for action comes as the St. Lawrence Seaway prepares to open tomorrow for its 52nd season amidst the myriad of pending state and federal ballast water regulations aimed at protecting U.S. and Canadian waters from species like the zebra mussel and round goby—unwanted invaders that cost Great Lakes citizens, businesses and cities more than $200 million per year in damages and control costs.
“For years, the Seaway opening has been a huge sign advertising the Great Lakes are open for the next invasion,” said Jennifer Nalbone, director of navigation and invasive species for Great Lakes United. “The Great Lakes are home to a multi-billion dollar fishery and source of drinking water for tens of millions of people. They require the highest protections possible, not the most convenient.”
This year could be a turning point in the fight against invasive species. After over 20 years of virtual inaction, the U.S. and Canadian governments are setting the stage to finally confront the ongoing problem of invasive species so that shared waters can be protected from biological pollution. However challenges remain regarding harmonizing regulations on shared waterways.
The groups are urging the U.S. and Canada and the region’s states to move quickly to coordinate and implement the highest protective standards proposed in the region, across the region, to mandate that ships do not dump harmful invaders into bi-national waters.
After years of inadequate action by the two federal governments, momentum is building to shut the door on aquatic invasive species—due largely to the efforts of state public officials who have passed ballast requirements and established numeric ballast water discharge standards, as well as advocacy groups, which have filed lawsuits to protect water quality. A recent court settlement requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to define a numeric ballast water discharge standard by 2012. In addition, the federal government of Canada has ratified the International Maritime Organization’s Ballast Water Management Convention—considered minimally protective of water quality—and is planning to incorporate the IMO’s numeric standard in the Canada Shipping Act. The U.S. Coast Guard will be finalizing a rule to establish a ballast water discharge standard this spring, proposed in 2009 to be the IMO standard, and strengthened as treatment technology advances.
”The stage is now set for the U. S. and Canada to stand and deliver,” said Marc Smith, senior policy manager with National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office. “The question is, ‘Will they?’ We encourage public officials to take strong action to protect the Great Lakes and other waters from aquatic invasive species.”
The shipping industry has unsuccessfully challenged in court state regulations to stop invasive species from entering the Great Lakes. The industry has also lobbied Congress and the Administration for weaker standards for foreign vessels and loopholes that could delay implementation by lakers of the pending Coast Guard rule. The federal government of Canada is also lobbying Congress, the Administration, and state of New York to weaken proposed standards in New York.
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. Currently the most stringent regulations being implemented by foreign vessels coming to the Great Lakes are two management practices: ballast water exchange, which has been required on approximately 10% of vessels entering the Great Lakes region since 1996, and flushing of empty tanks (for 90% of vessels entering the region termed “no ballast on board” or NOBOB), which was imposed by Canada in 2006 and the St. Lawrence Seaway in 2008. Ballast water exchange and NOBOB flushing are beneficial and have reduced the risk of new invasive species establishment by purging organisms in the open ocean or shocking freshwater organisms with high salinity water. But a 2007 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association states that both salinity shock and volumetric ballast exchange are “imperfect and subject to widely variable efficacy depending on taxa” and that the risk of new establishment of invasive species remains.
“It’s frustrating to see the start of another shipping season on the St. Lawrence Seaway knowing that still more needs to be done to clean up ship ballast tanks,” said Jennifer Caddick, Executive Director for Save The River. “The Seaway agencies and shipping industry have been painting themselves green. Unfortunately, the reality is that they have fought regulations that are protective of our Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River waters, such as New York’s strong rules to clean up ship ballast tanks, at every step of the way. Rather than fighting regulations, I wonder how far we could be today if that energy was instead spent advancing ballast treatment technology.”
For more information:
NOAA’s “Assessment of Transoceanic NOBOB Vessels and Low-Salinity Ballast Water as Vectors for Non-indigenous Species Introductions to the Great Lakes” can be found here: http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/res/projects/nobob/products/
Jennifer Nalbone, Great Lakes United: 716-983-3831; email@example.com
Marc Smith, National Wildlife Federation: 734-887-7116; firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Caddick, Save The River: 315-686-2010; email@example.com