Many of the world's invasive marine species are directly connected to ballast water carried by ships, as shipping transfers approximately ten billion tons of ballast water around the world every year. Chelsea Technologies' FastBallast is a portable ballast water compliance monitor to monitor invasive species.
FastBallast is capable of determining the phytoplankton cell density of ballast water at the IMO D2 & USCG Discharge Standards (10 to 50 µm range) with a higher degree of confidence than laboratory analysis. As well as its established presence in Europe and Asia, Chelsea Technologies’ FastBallast is in use worldwide, to help ensure industry tools for portable ballast water testing standards.
What is an Invasive Species?
An invasive species is an organism that is not indigenous, or native, to a particular area; it has ‘invaded’ an area and hence the very specific description ‘invasive’. It is not the same as a successful or rampant species that’s native to the area. Successful species can and do of course extend their geographical range through natural evolution and climate change, so the specific descriptor invasive species in ecology tends to be seen in the context of a species that has artificially extended its range as an effect of human activity.
What are some of the Harmful Invasive Species Transported by Ballast Water?
A wide variety of aquatic organisms such as fish, plankton, and other microorganisms have been transported by ballast water. Some examples include:
- Zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha): This small freshwater mollusk has been transported to many parts of the world, where it has caused significant ecological and economic damage by clogging water intake pipes and outcompeting native species.
- Asian carp (Bighead, Black, Grass, and Silver carp): These species were introduced to non-native areas through ballast water discharge.
- Sea squirt (Didemnum vexillum): A marine invertebrate that has caused damage to marine ecosystems by smothering native species and fouling fishing gear.
- Caulerpa taxifolia: A green seaweed species transported globally via ballast water which outcompetes native species.
- The European green crab (Carcinus maenas): This crab species, native to the North Atlantic, has been transported globally through ballast water
- Invasive species of phytoplankton and zooplankton: many species of phytoplankton and zooplankton have been transported to new waters via ballast water and can cause significant ecological damage by altering the food web and outcompeting native species. Some examples of invasive species of phytoplankton and zooplankton that have been transported via ballast water include:
- Dinoflagellate species, such as Heterosigma akashiwo, which has been transported to many parts of the world via ballast water and can cause harmful algal blooms.
- Diatom species, such as Cylindrotheca closterium, which has been transported to many parts of the world via ballast water and can outcompete native species and reduce biodiversity.
- Copepod species, such as Calanus helgolandicus and Eurytemora affinis, have been transported to many parts of the world via ballast water and can alter the food web by consuming native species or by becoming food for native predators.
- Phytoplankton such as Noctiluca scintillans a dinoflagellate species, which has been transported to many parts of the world via ballast water and can cause harmful algal blooms and fish kills.
- Zooplankton such as Mnemiopsis leidyi, a ctenophore species, which has been transported to many parts of the world via ballast water and can cause a decline in native fish populations by consuming their eggs and larvae.
Why are invasive species such a problem?
Invasive species represents an ecology problem because the ecosystem in which they are now invading lacks the natural predators that control their population where they come from. This means that their population expands without the necessary checks and balances to keep their numbers in balance with other native species in the area. As their numbers continue to expand, those invasive species then out-consume native species for resources, which in turn leads to an entirely unbalanced ecology. Introducing alien species just doesn’t work.
“it is estimated that 10,000 different species, many of which are non-indigenous, are transported via ballast water each day”
New Zealand, for example, has an absurdly unbalanced ecology because of a dozen hedgehogs imported from Europe. The country now has a hedgehog extermination and rewards programme, as these animals devastate the local ground-nesting bird population, putting near extinct species at risk. Ironically, hedgehogs are now under threat and highly protected back in their homeland (UK) from where they were introduced in New Zealand. Another such unfortunate example is the American Acclimatization Society’s Eugene Scheiffelin, who had a goal of having the park host every single bird species William Shakespeare mentioned in his plays. Unluckily for Americans, the Bard mentioned the starling once, in one play, and that was enough for Scheiffelin. The release of European starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) into New York’s Central Park was part of this; starlings are now a major agricultural pest throughout the USA.
What does any of this have to do with shipping?
Ballast water is one of the oldest aspects of shipping, insofar that it’s a key control that every ship’s captain has at their disposal to keep the vessel floating true. Mechanically, it’s a tank full of sea water filled and discharged as and when necessary to adjust the weight of the vessel, its weight distribution, and therefore adjust how high it rides in the water. It enables ships to have good trim, propellor immersion and stability on its voyage across the seas, and to unload their cargo at the destination end. It’s not just about safety but about costs as well, because if these factors are not optimised, higher fuel bills on the journey will result. As a captain you need every one of these controls.
So in practice, what happens is that ships will take on ballast water at their departure location, and then carry it across the ocean on their voyage and discharge it once they arrive at their destination. This means that marine organisms in that ballast water that are native to, for example, China, are carried in that ballast water across the world, and are dumped outside, for example, California. This isn’t a hypothetical example: with the globalisation of the world in the 20th and 21st century, international shipping transports the overwhelming majority of international goods across countries, oceans and continents, and every second of the day a captain somewhere is discharging or taking on ballast water: moving species from one location to another.
Marine invasive species
Ballast water taken up at sea and released in port by transoceanic vessels is the largest vector for non-native aquatic species invasions. In fact, it is estimated that 10,000 different species, many of which are non-indigenous, are transported via ballast water each day. On top of that, many marine organisms also have the capacity to attach themselves to vessel hulls. Therefore, these organisms are easily transported from one body of water to another and are a significant risk factor for a biological invasion event. Controlling for vessel hull fouling is voluntary and there are few regulations currently in place to manage hull fouling.
Invasive Species Legislation
The IMO adopted the international convention to control and manage ships ballast water and sediments in February 2004. This convention’s main scope is to ensure that maritime nations respect and take measures to prevent and reduce the transportation of harmful marine organisms by appropriate management of ships ‘ballast water and sediments. The measures include rules for the design, control, and construction of:
- Methods and systems for ballast water exchange
- Sediment control on ships and port reception facilities for sediments when ship’s ballast tanks are cleaned or repaired
- Designated areas for ballast water exchange
- Port reception facilities for receiving ballast water and sediments
Chelsea Technologies & Ballast Water
Chelsea Technologies manufactures FastBallast, a Ballast water compliance monitor compatible with global certification bodies. Chelsea work hard to achieve the highest standards of test criteria in order to assess the efficacy of all treatment systems as rapidly, accurately & objectively as possible.
• Quick & cost-effective – compliance level test in under 10 minutes decreasing need for shore-based laboratory involvement
• Accurate – the most accurate indicative instrument on the market, removing the cost to go back out to sea, exchange ballast water and return to port
• Simple – all-in-one portable instrument, including tablet, no consumables, designed to be operated by a single person