By Chris Grubb
The United States Coast Guard is finally taking steps to address its flawed enforcement of the National Invasive Species Act – an oversight that has contributed to invasive species introductions to the Great Lakes at an average rate of one every eight months. The Coast Guard’s Great Lakes program, initiated in 1993 following the arrival of zebra mussels, requires any ocean-going vessels equipped with ballast tanks entering the Great Lakes to exchange the tank contents in the open ocean, employ an approved alternative to treat hitchhiking organisms, or retain ballast contents and seal its tanks.
So what’s the problem? For the past 12 shipping seasons, the Coast Guard has exempted ships declaring “no ballast on board” (or NOBOB) from its regulations. But scientists have known for years that NOBOBs do carry invaders in their residual water and sediment. Because more than 80 percent of oceangoing ships that enter the Great Lakes through the St. Lawrence Seaway are NOBOBs, Jen Nalbone of Great Lakes United has correctly described this loophole as being “big enough to drive a cargo ship through.”
In the January 7th Federal Register, the Coast Guard acknowledged this loophole in its 12-year-old ballast water program to protect the Great Lakes, and announced it needs to develop a comprehensive program to address vessels classified as “no ballast on board”. The Coast Guard is collecting public comments and will hold a public hearing on “no ballast on board” management strategies on May 9 in Cleveland, Ohio. Vocalizing your concern for the Great Lakes is needed, regardless of your expertise on the complicated issues of invasive species and international shipping. Have you been impacted by an aquatic invasive species that came from an ocean-going ship (like the zebra mussel, quagga mussel, round goby, Eurasian ruffe or spiny water flea?) Do you want to stress the importance of quick action to close the NOBOB loophole for the 2005 shipping season? Do you have specific recommendations on the best way to stop new aquatic invaders from entering the Great Lakes from ocean-going ships? Let the Coast Guard know!
If you would like more information about submitting public comments or attending the May 9 meeting in Cleveland, contact Jen Nalbone ( firstname.lastname@example.org or 716-213-0408 ).