Environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), are demanding that the EPA strengthen a permit proposal to regulate ballast water discharges, which introduce non-native species, into the Great Lakes from commercial vessels. Non-native ballast water invaders cost $1 billion worth of damage every five years, according to the NRDC.
Ballast water is “a primary method of alien species introduction throughout the world,” according to the MIT Sea Grant Coastal Resources. As much as 3,000 alien species a day are estimated to be transported in ships around the world. Some of the alien species thrive in the new environment they find themselves in, and “can cause disruptions in the natural ecosystem, economic troubles, and even carry human diseases.” The MIT Sea Grant Coastal Resources describes ballast water as coming from ballast tanks, which ships fill to “maintain stability during transit along coasts and on the open ocean.” Large ships often carry gallons of ballast water, and the water may end up discharged or exchanged.
Here’s an example that shows the damage a non-native species can do. In the early 1950s, sea lampreys, a predator that attaches itself to a fish and sucks blood and tissue, began to invade Lake Superior. Before the invasion, the lake trout harvest averaged about 4.5 million pounds, but by 1960 it averaged less than 500,000 pounds.
A long legal battle led to the proposed regulations, and the proposed permit requires two things:
- Ships must install technology that meets the International Maritime Organization’s standard to treat ballast water
- Ships entering the Great Lakes must employ the added protection of exchanging ballast water to flush out and kill non-native freshwater organisms
Environmental groups think that the proposed regulations still leave the Great Lakes vulnerable to the introduction and spread of invasive species. In addition, environmental groups think they do not add to the Clean Water Act. The groups are asking EPA to make the following improvements:
- Adopt a zero-discharge standard for invasive species
- Adopt the most protective technology standards nationwide
- Develop standards for lakers, ships that ply the Great Lakes
- Develop a faster implementation timeline to implement new technology standards
The states must certify the EPA’s permit, and the EPA must issue a final permit by November 30, 2012.
Photo credits: Flickr user, Official U.S. Navy Imagery