Comb jelly, golden mussels and toxic algae star as villains in new ballast water documentary film

Tiny alien invaders transported in ballast water star as the villains in a new documentary film on harmful organisms in ships' ballast water launched today (23 March 2006) by IMO, the United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships, and BBC Worldwide.

The documentary film, "Invaders from the Sea", which will be broadcasted/distributed on television worldwide, shows that harmful organisms transported in ballast water by ships have caused biological and economic havoc around the world, largely due to the expanded sea trade and traffic volume over the last few decades. The effects in many areas of the world have been devastating. The film also highlights the progress made by IMO and the maritime industry in addressing this issue and the measures which can be taken to prevent the spread of harmful organisms.

The film captures the dramatic impact of this issue on the lives of millions of people, using examples of three harmful organisms, which have been transported to new areas in ships' ballast water:

North American comb jelly - has been transported to the Caspian Sea. This tiny ctenophore is a voracious predator and reproduces rapidly under favourable conditions. It feeds excessively on zooplankton, depleting stocks and altering the food web and ecosystem function. It contributed significantly to the collapse of fisheries in the Black and Azov Seas in the 1990s, with massive economic and social impact, and has now depleted stocks of the local kilka fish in the Caspian Sea. The impact on one Caspian fisherman and his family is highlighted in the documentary.

Golden mussel (Limnoperma fortunei) - a native to south eastern Asian rivers and creeks which has been transported in larval form in ships' ballast water to South America. It travelled to Brazil up river from the coastline of Argentina and is a highly reproductive invasive species that clogs up water intake pipes for hydro-electric power stations and fouls up other structures. It affects the feeding patterns of local fish, causing fish stocks to fall. The film shows the devastating impact of the golden mussel on fishing and hydro-electric power stations and on the local ecosystem.

Toxic Algae (Red Tides) - various species, including toxic dinoflagellates, cause red tides to appear. Several species have been transferred to new areas in ships' ballast water. They may form harmful algae blooms and, depending on the species, can cause massive kills of marine life through oxygen depletion, release of toxins and/or mucus. They can foul beaches and impact on tourism and recreation, while some species may contaminate filter-feeding shellfish and cause fisheries to be closed. Consumption of contaminated shellfish by humans may cause severe illness and death. The film focuses on South Africa where there has been an increase in cases of paralytic shellfish poisoning, after people ate shellfish collected from beaches affected by red tides. Paralytic shellfish poisoning can cause tingling and numbness of the mouth, lips and fingers, difficulty in breathing, accompanied by general muscular weakness and lack of co-ordination, and can lead to paralysis and death if not treated.

Quantitative data show the rate of bio-invasions is continuing to increase at an alarming rate, in many cases exponentially, and new areas are being invaded all the time. Volumes of seaborne trade continue to increase and the problem may not yet have reached its peak.

Ballast is crucial for the stability of a ship and it is estimated that about 3 to 10 billion tonnes of ballast water are transferred globally each year, potentially transferring from one location to another species of sealife that may prove harmful when released into a non-native environment.

In 2004, IMO adopted the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments, a new international treaty to prevent the potentially devastating effects of the spread of harmful aquatic organisms carried by ships' ballast water. The Convention will require all ships to implement a Ballast Water and Sediments Management Plan. All ships will have to carry a Ballast Water Record Book and will be required to carry out ballast water management procedures to a given standard. Existing ships will be required to do the same, but after a phase-in period. The documentary is intended to raise public awareness of the issue and is an invitation to Governments to effectively implement the Ballast Water Management Convention.

Meanwhile, IMO is executing the Global Ballast Water Management Project (GloBallast) in partnership with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to assist developing countries to reduce the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens in ships' ballast water, and to build capacity for legal, policy and institutional reforms in line with the new international regulatory regime. The second phase of this Project - GloBallast Partnerships - is expected to start in early 2007 and will incorporate a number of strategic partnerships, including the private sector, to achieve its aims.

The documentary features some of the solutions to preventing the spread of invasive species in ships' ballast water, including exchange of ballast water on the high seas and new technologies that are under development, such as flow-through systems to continuously exchange ballast water while the ship is sailing and methods to kill/inactivate microscopic life forms such as by using ozone or ultraviolet light. Different solutions may be required for different ships.

Making of the documentary
Filming took place during 2005 and 2006, around the world, with co-ordination carried out by a Steering Committee established by IMO at its Headquarters in London. The production enjoyed considerable sponsorship from Vela International Marine, BP Shipping and Wallenius-Alfa Laval Consortium, as well as from the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency and support from the GloBallast pilot countries (China, Iran, India, Ukraine, South Africa and Brazil). IMO also provided expert advice on the ballast water problem during the filming.

Sally Cryer, Assistant Producer at the BBC Natural History Unit, who produced the film, explained that one of the first jobs as producer was to decide which of the many alien invasions around the world would make the best case studies visually.

"We wanted the film to feel global, and I knew IMO particularly wanted to highlight problems in some of the developing countries, where they had assigned a "demonstration site" - i.e. a developing country where a major port was carrying out extra research and monitoring into shipping activities and ballast water invasions," she said.

The first two case studies - that of the North American comb jelly in the Caspian Sea and the golden mussel in Brazil - told the stories of local fishermen whose livelihoods had been completely destroyed by invasive marine species.

"In the Caspian, our film crew accompanied a night fishing expedition out to sea to fish for the local Kilka, and were able to witness at first-hand the large numbers of tiny comb jellies caught in the nets. In Brazil, we left the coast and travelled along the Plata River to observe the impact of the golden mussel on water supply systems and hydro-electric dams. Both had suffered machinery breakdown and blockages because of the way this mussel, from East Asia, reproduces and grows over itself into ever-expanding mats or balls. It was a real shock when the CESP (Central Electricity Company of Sao Paulo) hydro-electric dam allowed one of its turbines to be opened for our cameras, revealing an interior absolutely packed with this invasive mussel species," Ms. Cryer said.

One of the hardest things the crew had to do was film inside a ballast tank.

"The opportunity to do this came up in Bahrain where a huge oil tanker was going to be in dry dock for several days. Tom Scott from shipping company Vela International Marine organised for our director, Dan Rees, cameraman Sam Gracey and sound recordist Simon Kerr to film inside the ballast tanks as the pumps were turned on. The heat inside the tanks in the middle of August was over 50 degrees centigrade and the crew had to drink gallons of water to stop themselves dehydrating. Despite the intense discomfort, and the rising water-level, they achieved some very exciting footage," Ms. Cryer said.

The best way to show ballast tanks filling up with water is through the use of graphics. These were originated by a company in Bristol, United Kingdom. They designed a wire-frame tanker to show how a flow-through system would work, as well as a cargo ship which clearly explained the need for ballast, by showing the tanks filling up with water as containers "popped" off, one by one.

As well as filming material for the programme, Ms. Cryer's job was to search the BBC Archives for suitable footage of the oceans and marine life.

"The best moment for me came when I was thinking about the conclusion to the programme. I wanted to end on a positive note, to show how, with careful consideration, shipping can work in harmony with the environment. A popular series called "Coast" had just been aired on BBC-2, looking at the lives of people living along the entire coastline of the British Isles. I knew it had some fantastic aerials over a cargo ship in the Bristol Channel and as I searched for this footage my heart leaped, for there was a ship chugging across the Moray Firth in Scotland and as the camera zoomed into its bows, two dolphins suddenly leaped out of the water. I had my perfect conclusion."

Distribution / broadcasting
The documentary will be distributed by IMO through the United Nations film distribution channels in developing countries and by BBC Worldwide elsewhere. BBC Worldwide has the exclusive rights to distribute the film in the developed countries. It is expected that the film will be broadcasted by BBC World in the near future.

Briefing 10, 24 March 2006



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