Experts Warn Ships May Bring Lake Invaders
BUFFALO, N.Y. Ships navigating the St. Lawrence Seaway may carry more than coal and grain through the Great Lakes, say environmentalists, who warned Thursday about potential secondary "cargo" like killer shrimp or monkey gobies.
At the start of a new shipping season, Great Lakes United and the National Wildlife Federation called for stricter controls on oceangoing vessels, which have the potential to carry ecosystem-destroying lake invaders in discharged ballast water.
"Every time an oceangoing vessel enters the St. Lawrence Seaway it's like playing Russian roulette with the health of the Great Lakes," said Jennifer Nalbone of Great Lakes United.
Scientists have counted 162 exotic species in the lakes, and say they are being discovered at a rate of one every eight months.
Foreign species can proliferate because they lack predators that keep them in check at home. Fifteen years after the discovery of the zebra mussel, Great Lakes utilities still spend millions of dollars to keep them from clogging water intake valves.
"The question we are confronted with is not if new invaders will arrive in the Great Lakes, but when will they come and how much damage they will cause," said Anthony Ricciardi, researcher at McGill University in Montreal.
"In the past, the Seaway played an important role in the development and implementation of the current ballast water control standards and program," Dick Corfe, president and chief executive of the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp., said Wednesday in opening the Welland Canal, the Seaway's western leg. The Lake Ontario-Montreal section opens Friday.
The start of the shipping season comes as the U.S. Coast Guard's ballast water management strategy is under review. The Coast Guard acknowledged in January that 80 percent or more of oceangoing vessels that enter the Great Lakes are exempt from current regulations meant to keep out invasive species. Those vessels, while declaring they have no ballast on board, might carry residual ballast water and/or sediment in their tanks that can mix with new ballast water and be discharged once on the lakes.
Environmentalists want immediate action by the U.S. and Canadian governments to close the loophole. They have identified a dozen potential new invaders, including a "killer shrimp" so named because of its ferocious feeding behavior, and the monkey goby, cousin to the already present round goby, that competes with other small fish for food and space.
Earlier this month, two Michigan legislative leaders said Great Lakes states should regulate ship ballast instead of leaving the job to a slow-moving federal government. The lawmakers are pursuing formation of an eight-state coalition to address the issue.
Seaway officials, meanwhile, are hoping that a 6.5 percent increase in traffic last year was the start of a long-term upward trend.
The St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp.. and Transport Canada this week reduced lockage fees to attract more traffic to the Welland Canal. Corfe said the lower fees for new cargo are meant to encourage more "short sea shipping" for loads that might otherwise be moved by train or truck.
Source: Associated Press