Ballast Water Research

Cornell University ecologist David Pimentel estimates that invasive species cost the U.S. more than $122 billion annually. A report by the Environmental Defense Fund shows that roughly 400 of the 958 species listed as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Interior Department are at risk from invasive species. Studies have shown that many species of bacteria, plants and animals can survive in ballast water and sediment carried on ships. The discharge of ballast water is a major pathway for the transfer of potentially harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens around the world.

ship deballasting as it enters the Columbia River

Ballast water is taken on and released by a vessel to maintain trim and stability when loading and unloading cargo. When ballast water is taken onboard, any organism less than about 1 cm in size in the vicinity of the intake may also be ballasted into the vessel. All or part of the ballast water, and the organisms in the ballast water tanks, may be discharged in port when a ship takes on cargo or fuel. It has been estimated that 21 billion gallons of ballast water are discharged into US ports each year. Thus, ballast water can be a major pathway of new species introduction to aquatic ecosystems.

Several countries around the world have recognized the importance of aquatic nuisance species (ANS) introductions associated with ballast water discharge and have implemented laws and management programs to address the problem. In the United States the US Coast Guard implements and regulates the national ballast water program. In September 2004, after five years of a voluntary program, the Coast Guard established mandatory management requirements for vessels entering the U.S. from outside the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).The regulations require that exchange be conducted more than 200 nm offshore. There is no exchange requirement for vessels traveling “coastally” or wholly within the 200 nm EEZ.  The new provisions also established mandatory reporting requirements for both foreign and coastal arrivals, and increased the fines assessed for non-compliance to $27,500.

Oregon Ballast Water Management Program

In recognition of the potential for ANS discharged in ballast water to cause economic and environmental damage to the state, the Port of Portland, the shipping industry, and Portland State University supported SB 895 in the 2001 legislative session. SB 895 established the Oregon Ballast Water Program. The Oregon Ballast Water Management Program requires exchange and reporting from all transoceanic and coastal vessels calling on ports in Oregon. Because of the exchange requirement for vessels involved in coastal trade, the Oregon program is therefore more protective of Oregon water resources than the current federal program. This provision was made because Oregon ports are often a second port of call for transoceanic ships. full description here

Pacific Ballast Water Group

NOTE: Information about this project is kept up to date at this location

The Pacific Ballast Water Group (PBWG) was formed by representatives from the shipping industry, state and federal agencies, environmental organizations, and others who recognized the need for a cooperative and coordinated regional approach to solving the problem. Shipping is an international industry. Conflicting port or state regulations can create a complicated set of rules that make compliance difficult. The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the federal government, the shipping industry and the ports advocate that a consistent international or national approach is more preferable than local approaches, and will avoid the regulatory confusion and competition issues that may occur under a "patch work" regulatory approach. However, it is generally recognized that international and national efforts are ponderously slow in development and current programs do not adequately address the problem. The significant and mounting damages and costs associated with aquatic nuisance species have prompted increasing activity at the international, national, regional, state and local levels to regulate ballast water. Focused and effective action is needed to prevent further damage to coastal environments and economies, while minimizing regulatory complexity, shifts in competitive advantage, and economic impacts to the shipping industry. full description here