Shipping and invasive species

Spiral staircase, Place de Portage, Gatineau

Globalization has been profoundly associated with massive sea freight shipments. Primary commodities flow from states with rich resource endowments to others with processing facilities. Labour intensive goods are shipped from where labour is cheap to where the goods are demanded. In the process of all this activity, a lot of oceanic species have been able to move into waters they would never otherwise have reached. This unintentional human-induced migration has occurred for two major reasons: the construction of canals and the transport of ballast water. This brief discussion will focus on the latter.

Each year, ships carry 3 – 5 billion tonnes of ballast water internationally. The water is taken on in port, once a ship has been loaded. This is necessary to make the ship balanced and stable at sea. The water taken on can easily include hundreds of marine species of which many of which are capable of surviving the journey. If they get expelled in a suitable environment, these creatures can alter ecosystems and crowd out local species. Sea urchins that have arrived in this way have been extinguishing kelp beds off the west coast of North America, destroying sea otter habitat in the process. Zebra mussels are another infamous example of a problematic invasive species.

Efforts to prevent the transmission of species through ballast water take a number of forms:

  1. Ejecting the water taken on in port in the open ocean: most of the species expelled should die, and the new waters taken on should be relatively free of living things
  2. Poisoning the creatures in the ballast water: this can be done with degradable biocides like peracetic acid and hydrogen peroxide
  3. Transferring ballast water to a treatment facility at the arrival port
  4. De-oxygenating the water in ballast tanks: this kills most species, if the deoxygenated conditions are maintained for long enough

None of these approaches is completely effective. Each retains some possibility of unintentionally introducing invasive species. Several also have other environmentally relevant effects.

That said, simply making an active effort to prevent species transmission between ecosystems marks a big change in human thinking. Not long ago, species were often introduced willy-nilly into entirely new environments: for aesthetic, practical, or whimsical reasons. Infamous cases include those of Eugene Schieffelin – the man who introduced starlings to North America because he wanted to continent to contain all the birds mentioned in the works of Shakespeare – and Thomas Austin – the British landowner who introduced rabbits to Australia because he missed hunting them. Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of such introduced species.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

14 thoughts on “Shipping and invasive species”

  1. For those who didn’t know, Schieffelin’s starlings have done very well.

    North America now has 200 million of them.

  2. What precautions are required by Canadian law?

    Ballast Water Control and Management

    The Ballast Water Control and Management Regulations require ships to manage ballast water in ways that reduce the potential for invasions of non-indigenous organisms. These regulations apply to all vessels that are designed or built to carry ballast water (some exceptions are listed in the regulations). They also require that if residual ballast was not managed prior to taking on local ballast water, ship owners/operators must manage the local ballast water taken on board.

  3. Global trade brings unwanted visitors

    November 16, 2007 – We’ve probably all heard the urban legend about the unsuspecting shopper who takes home a bunch of bananas from the supermarket, only to have a tarantula later crawl out and terrorize the family. Well, new research shows that there could be some truth to the story.

    As it turns out, spiders are excellent hitchhikers and often end up taking rides across countries, continents and oceans. According to a report published in the journal Diversity and Distributions, spiders are thumbing rides more and more often as global trade increases. And as our planet heats up from global warming, more spiders might decide to make their vacations permanent.

    Researchers with the University of Bern in Switzerland looked at 87 alien species of spider from 25 different families known to have been introduced to Europe from other continents in the past 150 years. They found a near-linear progression of increased spider introductions correlating with an increase in global trade over the same time frame.

    Both the volume of trade and the number of trade routes around the world have expanded greatly over the past century. At the same time, the duration of each of these trips has shortened due to more efficient shipping routes and techniques, and faster forms of shipping, such as air transport. Less time spent en route increases a hitchhiker’s odds of surviving a trip, which make it more likely that the creature will be able to set up home in a new location.

  4. What precautions are required by Canadian law?

    Under the CSA 2001, ships can now manage ballast water in one of four ways. The management options are: exchange; discharge to a reception facility; treatment; and keeping it on board.

    A new CSA 2001 requirement also covers “disposal of sediments that have settled out at the bottom of a ballast water tank.” This was not covered by the Guidelines for the Control of Ballast Water Discharge from Ships in Waters under Canadian Jurisdiction (TP 13617). Sediments must now be disposed of at a reception facility. They may not be discharged over the side of the ship.

    Vessel owners/operators must report to Transport Canada Marine Safety if they cannot perform an exchange, as required. If a ship is unable follow its ballast water management plan – in other words, if it is an exceptional circumstance – they must report to Transport Canada within 96 hours before entering Canada’s territorial sea. If this is not possible, then they must report to Transport Canada as soon as possible.

  5. Moving on up

    Nov 26th 2007
    Conservationists have begun to broach a taboo

    HUNDREDS of years ago, nobody worried about the deleterious effects of deliberately transplanting species. When Europeans migrated overseas, they brought wheat, barley, rye, cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats for food and horses for transport. An angling society brought European fish to Australia. A group of bardophiles introduced all the species of birds Shakespeare mentioned into the United States. They released 100 pairs of starlings in New York’s Central Park; today it is one of America’s most common birds.

    These days people are more cautious about moving flora and fauna. The list of alien species that have upset ecosystems around the world is long and growing: the Japanese knotweed, Nile perch, Asian tiger-mosquito, brown tree-snake and even rabbits in Australia are just a few of the species that have turned from part of a balanced whole at home into invasive predators abroad. Roughly 40% of America’s threatened native species can partly blame their decline on newcomers.

    This phenomenon is called “ecological release”: native species freed from their usual predators, diseases and parasites sometimes become hyper-successful, and thus seriously upset the ecological balance of their new home.

  6. As global warming continues, warmer temperatures in Michigan will allow invasive weeds called phragmites to thrive in the Great Lakes region, according to a National Wildlife Federation report released this week.

    The report concludes that by 2050, spring and summer temperatures in the Great Lakes region may increase by up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively, and lake levels in lakes Michigan and Huron may drop by as much as 4.5 feet.

    As a result, phragmites will spread quicker when water levels drop and temperatures rise.

    The weed already has overtaken large swaths of Saginaw Bay and spread along other shorelines and farther inland, showing up in farm fields and ditches.

    Phragmites are believed to be native to Europe and choke out native vegetation and wildlife habitat and block views of and access to water.

  7. Primary fishing grounds are likely to become increasingly
    infested by invasive species, many introduced
    from ship ballast water.
    The vulnerability of impacted ecosystems to additional stresses
    is also demonstrated by the increase of invasive species infestations
    that are concentrated in the same 10–15% of the World’s
    oceans. Heavily disturbed and damaged marine areas are more
    likely to have a higher vulnerability to infestations brought in by
    ships plying the World’s oceans despite recommendations in
    many areas for mid-ocean exchange of ballast water. Geographical
    distribution of invasive species suggests a strong relationship
    between their occurrence and disturbed, polluted and overfished
    areas and in particular the location of major shipping routes at
    a global scale. It appears that the most devastating outbreaks of
    such marine infestations have been brought in along the major
    shipping routes and primarily established in the most intensively
    fished and polluted areas on the continental shelves. Growing climate
    change will most likely accelerate these invasions further.

  8. Green.view
    Sharing the same dream

    May 5th 2008

    Paying for Caribbean diversity

    TO THE casual visitor to Anguilla, a small island in the Caribbean, the most obviously invasive species is the tourist who arrives from distant lands to enjoy its soft sand and clear seas. Although foreigners sustain this and many other Caribbean islands, other aliens—invasive plants and animals—are a big problem for the region.

    The Caribbean is one of the world’s hotspots of biodiversity, with around 7,000 plants found nowhere else in the world. It is also home to around 600 bird species, of which 160 are endemic. Yet thirteen birds have already gone extinct here.

    In most places, loss of habitat tends to drive extinctions. In the Caribbean, however, biodiversity is threatened most by non-native species ruining the native vegetation and eating their way through local animals.

    Rats, cats, dogs, goats, donkeys, monkeys, tilapia, and even trout pose a serious threat to native fauna. On Anguilla’s uninhabited Dog Island, black rats eat the eggs and young of many bird species, while a large herd of goats have chomped their way through most plants (barring a few thorny shrub species). Back on Anguilla itself, the entire island is struggling with an invasion of giant African snails. Frustrated farmers and gardeners are hoping that the government will rid their island of the “menace”.

  9. Microwaves ‘cook ballast aliens’
    By Mark Kinver
    Science and nature reporter, BBC News

    US researchers say they have developed an effective way to kill unwanted plants and animals that hitch a ride in the ballast waters of cargo tankers.

    Tests showed that a continuous microwave system was able to remove all marine life within the water tanks.

  10. Asian carp advance on Chicago
    The invaders
    Dec 30th 2009 | CHICAGO
    From The Economist print edition

    Desperate efforts to keep a piscine predator from the Great Lakes

    THEY came to America in the 1970s, where they were employed to eat up algae in the fish farms of Arkansas. Before long, however, they had found their way to the vast Mississippi River basin. Gobbling plankton and spawning fast, they competed with native species. Steadily they moved north, closer and closer to the Great Lakes, which hold 90% of America’s surface freshwater. And then, on November 20th 2009, federal and state agencies announced that DNA from Asian carp had been found about eight miles (13km) from Lake Michigan, in a canal near Chicago. Panic has reigned ever since.

    More than a dozen federal, state and local agencies are trying to fend off the invaders. Since November there have been poisonings and press conferences, announcements and legal manoeuvres. On December 21st, cheered on by environmentalists, Michigan’s attorney-general filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court, demanding that the waterways connecting Lake Michigan to the Mississippi be closed. In the battle of man versus carp, man seems thoroughly outmatched.

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