Governments urged to finalise ballast water's invasive species rules

03 Nov 2010

The World Ocean Council (WOC), shipping, fisheries, aquaculture, and desalination industries have called for an urgent ratification of the Ballast Water Convention.

To control the spread of marine invasive species through ballast water, governments approved an international treaty in 2004, but the global regulations are still not in force due to the lack of a few government ratifications.

The shipping industry is ready to employ the technologies and practices required to address this serious threat to ocean ecosystems. In the meantime, marine biodiversity - and ocean industries such as aquaculture, fisheries and desalination - continue to be exposed to the impacts of alien species introductions.

According to the WOC, the ballast water of cargo ships transports 7,000-10,000 marine species each day across the oceans, creating a major pathway for marine invasive species.

The economic, social, recreational, and ecological losses/costs can be enormous. For example, zebra mussels accidentally introduced to the Great Lakes cause an estimated $5 billion (€3.6 billion) in damages to water pipes, boat hulls, and other hard surfaces.

The Ballast Water Management Convention was adopted in 2004 under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The convention will enter into force after ratification by 30 nations, representing 35% of the world merchant shipping tonnage. To date, 26 states have ratified the convention, comprising almost 24.7% of the world total merchant shipping tonnage.

IMO secretary general Efthimios Mitropoulos said invasive species are widely seen as one of the major threats to global biodiversity and that the Ballast Water Management Convention “aims at establishing a realistic target for the eradication of invasive species and for putting in place mechanisms to control the pathways for their introduction”.

He emphasised that government efforts are needed to protect the marine environment by ensuring this important convention is “ratified without further delay”.

In the aquaculture industry, John Holmyard, owner of Offshore Shellfish, stressed that governments must act on this treaty to protect food security.

“Aquaculture provides around half of the world’s seafood. Invasive species in ballast water can affect finfish, shellfish and seaweed culture and destroy entire regional aquaculture industries. These invaders include pathogens and parasites, as well as species that smother equipment and compete for food. Once established they can be impossible to eradicate. Stopping their introduction is the only practical way of preventing this impact on the capacity of aquaculture to provide the world’s current and future seafood needs,” said Holmyard.

Numerous fisheries around the world have been severely impacted by marine invasive species, noted Paul Holthus, WOC executive director. “In the Black Sea, the introduced comb jelly caused the collapse of the anchovy, sprat and other fisheries worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year. In Australia, newly arrived dinoflagellates cause paralytic shellfish poisoning and have harmed local shellfish industries, while an introduced starfish is reaching 'plague’ proportions and feeding on commercially valuable scallop, oyster and clam species.”

Lisa Henthorne, director and past president of the International Desalination Association (IDA), and co-chair of IDA's Environmental Task Force, said: "Taking measures to safeguard the health of our oceans is a vitally important and shared responsibility. It is crucial that everyone who uses our oceans – as a source of drinking water for our thirsty planet, to produce energy, or to facilitate commerce – works together to preserve the quality of these waters not only for today, but also for future generations”.

Patricia Burke, IDA secretary general, added that: “Aggressive marine invasive species that colonise and block intake and discharge pipes would create enormous cost and disruption to desalination plants. This must be avoided by preventing the introduction of alien species through ballast water.”

The WOC is working with the IMO, CBD, and other UN organisations to advance ocean industry leadership in addressing marine biodiversity protection.

WOC is the international, cross-sectoral industry alliance for private sector leadership and collaboration in ocean stewardship. Membership is open to ocean industries committed to addressing the challenges of Corporate Ocean Responsibility.

Members to date include almost 30 leading companies and associations from a wide range of ocean industries: oil and gas, shipping, marine science, ocean technology, seafood, tourism, maritime law, marine environmental services, and others.