Monday, July 21, 2008

NRC Recommends Adoption Of IMO Standards To Control Invasive

Jul 16: A new report -- TRB Special Report 291: Great Lakes Shipping, Trade, and Aquatic Invasive Species -- from the National Academies' National Research Council (NRC) says that the United States should follow Canada's lead and adopt standards identical to those proposed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to prevent invasive species from entering the Great Lakes. Both nations should ensure that only vessels adhering to these standards gain access to the lakes, and binational surveillance measures should be in place to monitor the presence of aquatic invasive species. These actions should be part of a suite of preventive measures designed to evolve over time in response to practical experience and technological advances. The committee that wrote the report also stated that many of its recommendations could be enacted within the next two to three years. Delaying beyond this time frame would leave the Great Lakes, which are already home to over 180 aquatic invasive species, in danger of future invasions.

Since the opening of the seaway, ballast water has been the source of 55 percent to 70 percent of the aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes, including the zebra mussel, one of the most successful invaders to date. In addition, invasive species can enter the lakes via recreational boating, bait fishing, disposal from home aquariums, and many other avenues. Because there are so many ways that an invasive species can enter the lakes, even closing the St. Lawrence Seaway altogether would not stop future invasions, and closure of the seaway would not enhance regional trade. Therefore, the NRC report says, "the best option is to require ballast water management by all international ships entering the seaway as well as ships coming from the coasts of the U.S. or Canada."

Because the Great Lakes are a freshwater ecosystem, one method ships use to kill potential invaders is to either fill or flush out their ballast tanks with saltwater, which kills freshwater species. Another option is to use water treatment, such as filtering the ballast water or adding chemicals to it. Although the effectiveness of these water treatment systems is believed to be greater than that of saltwater, most of these technologies are currently either unproven or technically challenging onboard ship, said the committee.

A number of ballast water management regulations are already in place within the Great Lakes region. However, Canada and the United States have different requirements, and the United States allows states to set their own standards. Michigan has adopted specific requirements for ships accessing its ports, and other states are considering following suit. These inconsistencies can create confusion within the shipping industry and make monitoring compliance difficult. According to the committee, the entire Great Lakes region should have a uniform set of standards for combating invasive species. The United States should also adopt ballast water management standards identical to those proposed by the IMO, which require specific saltwater exchange or flushing protocols and monitoring for organisms after treatment. Canada adopted regulations identical to the IMO rules in 2006, but the United States is still considering legislation options.

Although there have been calls for the United States to follow standards even stricter than the IMO's, the committee noted that cost-effective, accurate tools do not yet exist to monitor effectiveness or compliance with standards beyond those of the IMO. The uncertain and inconsistent nature of the Great Lakes current regulatory environment might even hinder technological development of water treatment and monitoring compliance, said the committee. Adopting uniform requirements would remove that uncertainty, and innovative technology may develop more quickly if a clear market exists. Uniform ballast water standards in the Great Lakes could be the first step in converting a system currently fragmented between two nations and multiple agencies into a comprehensive, cooperative, and coherent binational system of governance.

Access a release from the Academies (click here). Access links to a number of Commissioned Papers on ballast water management issues (click here). Access a 4-page summary of the report (click here). Access the complete 148-page report (click here).