Ballast water dumping, other measures push to fight invaders
By CRYSTAL L. BURKS
Capital News Service
LANSING- It was a victory for the Great Lakes as a federal judge upheld Michigan’s law requiring ballast water to be emptied before entering the lakes.
The decision upheld the power of states to regulate ballast water, which is ocean or salt water taken into the bowels of a ship to keep it balanced.
Ballast is blamed for bringing at least 183 foreign species to the Great Lakes, devastating commercial and game fishing.
Fish and plant species from the Atlantic Ocean are often in the water and carried inside a ship as it makes its way along the St. Lawrence Seaway.
The decision is significant because it shows Michigan is taking steps to keep the Great Lakes from further damage and help native species replenish, environmental groups say.
On the losing side is a coalition of nine shipping associations and companies, which agued they are at a disadvantage because of Michigan’s law.
Dan Deane, president of Nicholson Terminal & Dock Co., said an appeal has been filed.
“We are not opposed to the regulating of ballast water. We want it to be handled under federal law by the United States Coast Guard,” he said. The company is based in Ecorse.
Eight states and the Canadian province of Ontario border the Great Lakes.
Contaminated ballast waters are blamed for the introductions of zebra mussels, quagga mussels, round gobies and sea lampreys. All those species are foreign to the Great Lakes and have proven problematic, according to the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland.
And Erin McDonough says billions of dollars are spent trying to control invasive species in the Great Lakes. “Once they’re in, it’s impossible to get rid of them.”
McDonough, a policy specialist for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said the shipping industry must take necessary steps to avoid bringing more invaders.
The cost of treating ballast water is minimal compared to the cost of controlling unwanted species, she said.
Emily Finnell, an analyst for the Department of Environment Quality, agreed. “There are several different methods of treating ballast.”
They include using a type of chlorine, emptying ballast water both before and after entering the lakes and using ultraviolet rays.
The sea lamprey is an eel-shaped fish with a round mouth that attaches to the side of a fish and sucks fluids out.
Great Lakes United, an organization with offices in New York and Montreal, is working to preserve the ecosystems in the lakes.
Jenn Nalbone, its campaign director, said lampricides have controlled the sea lamprey from overpopulating and there is a sterile-male release program to help control them as well.
But there are no successful controls for the zebra mussel or round goby, experts say.
Finnell said round goby eat any and everything, including fish eggs. Gobies are bottom dwelling and nocturnal, enabling them to elude most common methods of control.
The species has changed commercial and game fishing by destroying many native fish, she said.
Zebra mussels are uncontrolled as well.
The mussels deprive native fish of food. Although they clean water, the toxins they take in make them dangerous for consumption by native species.
McDonough said the mussel’s slightly bigger cousin, the quagga, is equally dangerous.
Both types of mussels can clog water pipes and drains.
Nalbone added the mussels have spread from the Great Lakes to as far as the Rocky Mountains.
New methods of control and eradication are being researched.
|Download a Microsoft Word version of this story here.
© 2007, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism