Stopping Hitchhikers in Ballast Tanks

04-19-2012 // Rebecca Williams - The Environment Report

This excerpt is from The Environment Report

Ships entering the Great Lakes can carry water from foreign ports. That water is held in their ballast tanks. It helps stabilize the ship.

Now, anytime you hear the term ballast water... do your eyes glaze over... maybe you start thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner? Okay, so it’s not the sexiest topic. But it matters because sneaky little invasive species can hide in the ballast water... and catch a ride across the ocean.

“Invasive species, scientists think, are the worst problem facing the Great Lakes. They threaten the Great Lakes health, they threaten to crash the ecosystem, they threaten our economy.”

That’s Andy Buchsbaum. He directs the Great Lakes office of the National Wildlife Federation. He says when ships dump their ballast water in the Great Lakes, the invaders can get out.

“And if they find each other and fall in love, you have families of those critters and you actually have some real population problems like zebra mussels going wild in the Great Lakes.”

Zebra mussels have caused all kinds of havoc with Great Lakes ecosystems. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates 30 percent of the invasive species in the Great Lakes have come in through ballast water.

The EPA and the Coast Guard have been trying to solve this problem. One of the main approaches is for ships to exchange ballast water with saltwater before entering the Great Lakes.

“It kills some of species in that ballast water but not all of them."

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