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Ballast Water Initiatives

The marine industry is committed to reducing, and eventually eliminating, the role it plays in the movement of aquatic nuisance species. Today, the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Seaway System has the most stringent ballast water management and inspection regulations in the world. Since the latest measures were introduced in 2006, no new aquatic nuisance species have been discovered in the Great Lakes due to shipping. The marine industry is currently awaiting U.S. and Canadian government approval on proposed international regulations requiring installation of ballast water treatment technology aboard all ocean-going vessels.

Tough Protections Against Invasive Species

When not fully loaded, cargo ships must take on water (ballast) to maintain stability. Once pumped onboard, ballast water is stored in narrow cavities (ballast tanks) built into the hull of a ship. Ballast water pumped onboard in one port may inadvertently contain aquatic organisms and they could be released if the ballast is discharged in another port.

All vessels entering the Great Lakes from abroad are required to exchange (pump out) their ballast water while still at sea and flush any empty tanks with ocean water. This practice helps to physically remove organisms, including potential invasive species, from ballast tanks. Further, seawater (which has a high salinity) will kill most freshwater organisms. To ensure compliance, the U.S. and Canadian governments inspect and test every ocean-going ship entering the Great Lakes in Montreal – the gateway to the St. Lawrence Seaway.

A recent Canadian government-funded study indicates that these two practices of ballast water exchange and flushing are typically 99.993% effective at removing or exterminating freshwater zooplankton that could possibly invade the ecosystem of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway region.

Bi-national Cooperation Between Canada and The United States to Reduce Risk

  • Great Ships Initiative
    To help stimulate the development and deployment of effective ballast water treatment technology, the marine industry has collaborated with federal and state governments in the U.S. and Canada and non-governmental organizations to set up the world's only fresh water ballast treatment technology test facility. The Great Ships Initiative (GSI) was launched in 2006 with seed money contributed from the marine industry. The Northeast-Northwest Institute manages the project with research services provided by the University of Wisconsin-Superior and the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
  • Great Lakes-Seaway Ballast Water Collaborative
    Launched in 2009, this collaborative brings together representatives from industry, state, provincial and federal governments and academia to share relevant information, increase dialogue and discuss ways of further reducing the risk of introduction and spread of aquatic nuisance species via ballast water. Through the efforts of the Great Lakes Ballast Water Collaborative, it is hope that governmental efforts to regulate ballast water discharges can be better coordinated to achieve meaningful results while maintaining regulatory stability and continuity.
  • Best Management Practices
    U.S. and Canadian domestic vessels (known as "Lakers") never leave North America. Consequently, these ships present no risk of introducing foreign species from overseas. Nevertheless, Lakers may play a role in transferring aquatic nuisance species from lake to lake. To address this possibility, ship operators have taken a pro-active stance. In 2000-2001, the Lake Carriers' Association (LCA) and the Canadian Shipowners Association (CSA) agreed to a suite of best management practices to minimize the transfer of aquatic nuisance species. These practices require shipowners to: regularly inspect ballast tanks and remove accumulated sediments; avoid ballast uptake in areas where harmful nuisance and invasive species are present; minimize ballast operations in shallow water; cooperate with research and sampling studies, and cooperate in testing new ballast water treatment systems.
  • Joint Inspection Program
    Under both U.S. and Canadian regulations, ballast exchange and salt water flushing of ballast tanks is required of all vessels entering the Great Lake from overseas. These practices are believed to help remove and/or kill aquatic species before ships reach the Great Lakes. The U.S. and Canadian federal governments have established a rigorous bi-national vessel inspection program in Montreal. Every ocean-going ship is stopped, boarded and inspected for compliance before it is allowed to enter the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Seaway region . Non-compliance brings the threat of civil penalties. Today, no unmanaged ballast water enters the Great Lakes, decreasing the possibility of negative economic and ecological impacts due to the introduction of invasive species