Stop The Invasion!

Forget about little green men from Mars, alien invaders are taking over the world’s waters and wreaking ecological disaster everywhere they go. A new report by the Nature Conservancy finds that 84 percent of the world’s coasts are being overtaken by invasive species. The first quantitative study of the impact that marine invasive species are having illustrates where they are located, how they are transported and what they do to the natives once they occupy new ground.

The Great Lakes are no stranger to the ecological devestation these species are capable of and have spent nearly $5 billion annually to ward off more invasive species. “Every day, thousands of vessels cross our oceans with invasive species hitchhiking on their hulls…as many as 10,000 species are estimated to be in transit at any one time,” Jennifer Molnar, conservation scientist and lead author of the study told Environmental News Service.

Again, this is no surprise to those concerned with the fresh water habitats in the Great Lakes. We have known for some time that ships are the Trojan Horse of these aquatic pests. That is why we are dedicated to getting a strong Ballast Bill approved by Congress. The Ballast Water Management Act of 2007 is the most comprehensive ballast legislation ever considered by Congress, but generated some concerns over preemption of the Clean Water Act, state control of waters and a loop hole that could allow the Coast Guard to delay treatment of the ballast waters using excuse after excuse such as cost, feasibility, you name it. Having said that, this legislation is the closest we have ever come to a systematic approach that promises real help to counter the problem. And we would hate to throw the baby out with the ballast water.

Because the Great Lakes need ballast legislation to fight the invasive species threat and we need it yesterday we will be urging Congress to improve the bill and approve it during our visit to Capitol Hill this week.

Last Fall, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer weighed in respectfully asking committee members to rethink a little clause that would prevent states from employing their own, stricter or stronger ballast programs in their waters if the federal law becomes a sludgy, watered down mess. The Governor, like us, is also worried that the law “unduly” preempts the Clean Water Act.

“Exempting ballast water discharges from the Clean Water Act may lead some states to be in the position of not being able to meet or effectively implement their state water quality standards,” he wrote.

Finally, he too is concerned with the late start date for ships to have treatment technology onboard. “We cannot afford to delay action any longer,” Spitzer wrote.

The same exact concerns were raised by six state attorneys general in a powerhouse statement he sent to the committee members. The AG’s from Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania joined forces as the responsible legal officers to express their “strong opposition” to the same three aspects of the bill.

As a coalition, we share the concerns of Governor Spitzer and the Attorneys General and last Fall sent our own letter  to the committee. We can’t possibly express with the words that currently exist in the English language how urgently we need ballast management for the very survival of the Great Lakes.

Alien species may be invading global waters, but this is one issue that is better fought locally. They cost the United States $120 billion annually to control and repair damage. They are literally the biggest threat the Great Lakes face. There are 185 invasives in the Great Lakes already, sixty percent of which come from ballast discharge. More than 200 scientists have testified that the lakes are at a tipping point – we have a very narrow window of opportunity before this destructive scourge creates an “irreversible ‘invasional meltdown’ that may be more severe than chemical pollution.” Another invasive species is discovered every 28 weeks – yikes – and it is costing the Great Lakes region approximately $5 billion annually (gulp). The strongest possible ballast management bill needs to be approved and implemented with the greatest of haste or expect a bigger, more expensive problem that we just may not be able to fix.

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