Coast Guard Floats Rule on Invasive Species

The U.S. Coast Guard announced a proposed regulation today designed to prevent invasive species from entering U.S. waters. The rule would require ships to treat ballast water, which is pumped into tanks when leaving port and typically dumped at the incoming port, to kill microorganisms and larvae that come along for the ride. The Coast Guard says it "will work to elevate the priority" of research to figure out how effective the measure will be.

Ships are already required to exchange their ballast water at sea to get rid of any hitchhiking species, but the effectiveness varies quite a bit, depending in part on the ship's construction. The proposed regulation will require that ships have new technology on-board—such as filtration systems—that will reduce the number of organisms released in port to a standard set by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2004.

"I'm feeling positive about this," says Allegra Cangelosi, principal investigator for the Northeast-Midwest Institute's Great Ships Initiative, which is working to reduce aquatic invasions in the Great Lakes. "These standards are a good guess at what is necessary to reduce risk of ship-mediated transfers to a manageable level." As of last month, IMO had approved eight kinds of treatment systems.

Under the proposed Coast Guard rule, new vessels launched after 2012 would need to have treatment systems that meet the IMO standard. Existing vessels will need to be retrofitted to meet that standard between 2014 and 2016, depending on the ship's size. The cost will likely run $1.18 billion over 10 years.

The Coast Guard is also considering a phase-two standard that would be up to 1000 times more stringent than the phase-one standard. By 2013, it will complete a review on the feasibility of achieving this standard—one live organism per 100 cubic meters of water. Another question is exactly how much benefit these standards will have, so the Coast Guard would like to see more research done by its staff and other agencies.

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