If you have traveled along route 37 from Massena, NY to route 12 toward Clayton, you may have caught yourself glancing at the beautiful views of the St. Lawrence River. If you are lucky, you may also have seen large ships voyaging the river. At first glance, they seem miraculous. And they are.
I remember my first Uncle Sam’s boat tour in the Thousand Island region of the St. Lawrence Seaway when one such ship worked its way past our boat. The Great Lakes contain one of the largest transportation systems in North America. Ships travel there from all corners of the world; some 50 countries use the Seaway.
Each day, during shipping season, hundreds of large national and international ships travel west into the St. Lawrence River and onto the Great Lakes from the Atlantic Ocean (Seaway Fact Sheet). Most carry large loads and require ballast water to balance them to avoid capsizing. When the load is removed at port, the ballast is dumped into the lake, inadvertently introducing non-native organisms into the Great Lakes system.
These species include the round goby, sea lamprey, alewife, and zebra mussels. Invasions of exotic species or non-native species can cause environmental problems. This has led to the enactment of ballast water regulations that help prevent further invasions, and to the creation of the Great Lakes Seaway Water Working Group (GLSBWWG). The group is comprised of the US Coast Guard, St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, Transport Canada – Marine Safety & Security, and the Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (2013, Great Lakes Seaway BWW Group)
Beginning with its founding in 2006, the Working Group required large vessels to submit a Ballast Water Reporting Form, which requested information about the size of the tank, proposed discharge location, the voyage histories, and other management criteria. At the top of the report form is a Ballast Management Exam. The exam is given to the crew on the vessel to gauge their understanding of the regulations. It also requires a test for salinity levels and water clarity. From 2007 to 2014, the number of Ballast Management plans have risen from a mere 74% to a full100%. When a vessel is not in compliance enforcements actions are commenced. Most of the actions against first-time offenders are letters of warnings. But for repeated offenders fines are issued (2013,Sum Great Lakes Seaway BWW Group).
Newer technologies and progressive science can help reduce the threat of invasive species even more.
The success of the Great Lakes Seaway Ballast Water Working Group has been outstanding. Every vessel that enters the St. Lawrence is checked before it reaches the Great Lakes. In 2008, approximately 97% were checked. The US Coast Guard issued 10 Letters of Warning and Transport Canada issued 18 Letters of Warning. Of the 97 tanks that were issued Letters of Retention, 31 contained ballast water that could have caused an outbreak of invasive species (2008, USCG).
In 2011 fewer Letters of Warning were issued than in 2008. Transport Canada issued Letters of Warning to four vessels. One vessel received a fine of $3000. There were 60 Letters of Retention issued which contained 223 tanks (2010, Sum Great Lake Seaway BWW Group). In 2014, 50 vessels received letters of retention while only 3 ships received letters of warning. There were absolutely no violation fines in 2014 (2014, Great Lakes Seaway BWW Group).
The GLSBWWG is working out to be a fine organization. Due to its success and progress, the threat of invasive species to the Great Lakes has been greatly reduced. However, the GLSBWWG has yet to accomplish its goal. Newer technologies and progressive science can help reduce the threat of invasive species even more. The future for preserving the Great Lake ecosystem looks to be positive as long as this organization keeps growing and improving.