Skip to main content

In a bid to slow the introduction of foreign nuisance species into the Great Lakes, the United States is planning to have all ocean-going ships that enter the U.S. sector of the St. Lawrence Seaway flush their ballast tanks in the open Atlantic with salt water.

The new measure is expected to be in force when the seaway reopens after its winter closing, typically about the end of March.

The saltwater treatment, which has been mandatory since 2006 on ships travelling the Canadian portion of the 3,700-kilometre seaway, is designed to kill organisms adapted to fresh or brackish water that are hitching a ride in the ballast tanks vessels use to maintain their stability.

Story continues below advertisement

Ocean shipping is considered the main route for foreign introductions on the Great Lakes, the world's largest system of fresh water. Although the lakes stretch nearly to the centre of North America, the five bodies and their connecting channels are starting to have an ecosystem populated with species of water fleas, mussels and fish, among other exotic creatures, from places as distant as the Black Sea and China.

Because the lakes are open water, species released in either Canada or the United States quickly spread to both sides of the border.

Environmentalists and seaway officials alike hailed the measure.

"These new, tougher ballast water regulations will protect the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway ecosystem," said Collister Johnson, administrator of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., which oversees the U.S. part of the waterway.

Although adding salty ocean water to ballast tanks won't completely eliminate the risk of invaders, Mr. Johnson said it "will kill the vast majority of them." About 500 ocean-going ships, known as "salties," travel the seaway each year.

Environmentalists have been pushing for more than a decade for the new rule, which will come into force nearly 20 years after the discovery in the late 1980s that a dangerous new species - zebra mussels - had spread to the lakes.

"We applaud this action," said Jennifer Nalbone, a spokeswoman for Great Lakes United, an environmental group based in Montreal and Buffalo. "We know that this is going to reduce the risk of invasions."

Story continues below advertisement

Following the zebra-mussel invasion, the Canadian and U.S. governments set up a mixed system of voluntary and mandatory measures to have ocean ships flush their ballast tanks with seawater. But the rules had a major loophole that exempted more than 80 per cent of sea-going vessels, because they were carrying cargo and consequently didn't contain ballast water.

After foreign invaders continued to be found following these initial measures, the shipping industry discovered that even the sludge and residual water at the bottom of empty ballast tanks were teeming with aquatic life.

Mr. Johnson said the new rule will be put in place "fairly rapidly ... by government standards." He said authorities can't do anything "about the horses that are out of the barn," referring to foreign invaders that became established during the period of lax regulations.

The ballast-water provision is unlikely to end the controversy over ocean shipping on the lakes.

There are currently about 180 foreign species in the lakes, and new ones have recently been arriving at the rate of one every 28 weeks on average.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter