Great Lakes-Seaway shipping is committed to protecting the Great Lakes from aquatic invasive species. With industry-driven best management practices, no new invasive species have been introduced into the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System through the uptake and discharge of ships’ ballast waters since 2006.
Ballast water is critical to the safety of the crew and ship when transiting open waters. In the Great Lakes, after ships have unloaded their cargo, they often make the return trip without any cargo on board. Ocean-going vessels often take on ballast water to compensate for the weight of discharged cargo. That process is reversed when cargo is loaded. To provide stability, to keep the vessel in trim and the propeller and rudder submerged, a ship must ballast.
In a cooperative effort, the U.S. and Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway agencies in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard and Transport Canada, implemented new rules on all ships entering the Great Lakes from overseas. These rules were developed with the cooperation of the shipping industry and fully implemented in 2006. The regulations require that all ships entering the Great Lakes conduct saltwater flushing of their ballast tanks while still at sea prior to arrival in North American waters. Flushing physically removes organisms from ballast tanks and the salinity of the introduced ocean saltwater destroys freshwater organisms present in the ballast tanks.
The rules are enforced by a joint U.S.-Canadian inspection program established in Montreal – the location of the first lock to enter the St. Lawrence Seaway. Every ocean-going ship is stopped, boarded, and sampled to ensure compliance.
Vessel Best Management Practices
Great Lakes vessel operators have voluntarily adopted a series of best management practices to reduce the risk of spreading aquatic invasive species. These practices include, among others, regular inspection of ballast tanks by ship owners; removal of sediment accumulations; minimizing ballast uptake near shore; maintaining records of ballasting operations; and cooperating with research efforts related to ballast water treatment.
Great Ships Initiative
Launched in 2006, the Great Ships Initiative (GSI) is a joint effort between the maritime industry, the Northeast-Midwest Institute, environmental organizations, the U.S. and Canadian Seaway agencies, and federal, state and provincial governments. The program’s goal is to accelerate the deployment of effective ballast water management systems to protect the Great Lakes. To that end, GSI provides technology test and verification services through its laboratories, land-based test facility and shipboard trials to support the mandated U.S. Coast Guard approval process for any proposed treatment system.
Great Lakes Ballast Water Collaborative
In 2009, the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, with the International Joint Commission, initiated the formation of the Great Lakes Ballast Water Collaborative bringing together industry and state and federal regulators on the issue of ballast water and invasive species in the region. The Collaborative shares relevant, useful, and accurate information, and fosters communication and cooperation among the key stakeholders and the research community.