Alien invaders in ballast water - new Convention to be adopted at IMO
Conference on Ballast Water Management: 9-14 February 2004
A new international convention to prevent the potentially devastating effects
of the spread of harmful aquatic organisms carried by ships' ballast water is
set to be adopted at an international conference to be held from 9 to13 February
2004 at the London Headquarters of the International Maritime Organization (IMO),
the United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping
and the prevention of marine pollution from ships.
The proposed new instrument is being developed on the basis of a two-tier approach.
Tier 1 includes requirements that would apply to all ships, including mandatory
requirements for a Ballast Water and Sediments Management Plan, a Ballast Water
Record Book and a requirement that new ships carry out ballast water management
procedures to a given standard. Existing ships would be required to do the same,
but after a phase-in period.
Tier 2 gives Parties the option to take additional measures before ships would
be allowed to enter their ports. Such additional measures are subject to criteria
set in the draft convention and to IMO guidelines yet to be developed, and may
also include additional controls applicable to discharge and/or uptake areas of
IMO Secretary-General Mr. Efthimios E. Mitropoulos highlighted the urgent need
to agree the proposed new mandatory instrument to regulate the management of ship
ballast water and sediment and prevent the transfer of unwanted species from one
ecosystem to another.
"This is an
extremely serious environmental issue which IMO has been working on for more
than a decade. The fact of the matter is that ships, by carrying thousands of
tonnes of ballast water from one part of the world to another, can transfer
pathogens and other micro-organisms and invasive species which have the capacity
to distort and destroy the very delicate balance which exists in the ecosystem
of the region where the ballast water is offloaded," Mr. Mitropoulos said.
spills and other marine pollution caused by shipping, exotic organisms and marine
species cannot be cleaned up or absorbed into the oceans. Once introduced, they
can be virtually impossible to eliminate and in the meantime may cause havoc"
include the introduction of the European zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha)
in the Great Lakes between Canada and the United States, resulting in expenses
of billions of dollars for pollution control and cleaning of fouled underwater
structures and waterpipes; and the introduction of the American comb jelly (Mnemiopsis
leidyi) to the Black and Azov Seas, causing the near extinction of anchovy and
The problem of
invasive species is largely due to the expanded trade and traffic volume over
the last few decades. The effects in many areas of the world have been devastating.
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 overall to increase and the
problem may not yet have reached its peak.
It is estimated that about 10 billion tonnes of ballast water are transferred
globally each year, potentially transferring from one location to another species
of sealife that may prove ecologically harmful when released into a non-native
The problem of harmful aquatic organisms in ballast water was first raised at
IMO in 1988 and since then IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC),
together with the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) and technical sub-committees,
have been dealing with the issue, focusing in the past decade first on guidelines
and then on developing the new convention.
In order to help developing countries understand the problem, monitor the situation
and prepare for the convention, IMO is implementing the GEF/UNDP/IMO Global
Ballast Water Management Programme (GloBallast: http://globallast.imo.org/ )
and has provided technical support and expertise.
The conference will be preceded by the GloBallast 5th Global Project Task Force
(GPTF) Meeting scheduled to take place also at the IMO Headquarters from 3 to
6 February 2004.
Scientists first recognized the signs of an alien species introduction after
a mass occurrence of the Asian phytoplankton algae Odontella (Biddulphia sinensis)
in the North Sea in 1903.
But it was not
until the 1970s that the scientific community began reviewing the problem in
detail. In the late 1980s, Canada and Australia were among countries experiencing
particular problems with unwanted species, and they brought their concerns to
the attention of IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).
In 1991 the MEPC
adopted MEPC resolution 50(31) - Guidelines for Preventing the Introduction
of Unwanted Organisms and Pathogens from Ships' Ballast Water and Sediment Discharges;
while the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED),
held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, recognized the issue as a major international
In November 1993,
the IMO Assembly adopted resolution A.774(18) - Guidelines for Preventing
the Introduction of Unwanted Organisms and Pathogens from Ships' Ballast Water
and Sediment Discharges, based on the Guidelines adopted in 1991. The resolution
requested the MEPC and the MSC to keep the Guidelines under review with a view
to developing internationally applicable, legally-binding provisions.
The 20th Assembly
of IMO in November 1997 adopted resolution A.868(20) - Guidelines for the
control and management of ships' ballast water to minimize the transfer of harmful
aquatic organisms and pathogens.
of the draft mandatory instrument has been continuing since then.
The top most
unwanted "alien invaders" include:
Vibrio cholerae (various strains)
strains with broad ranges
America, Gulf of Mexico and other areas
cholera epidemics appear to be directly associated with ballast water
and Caspian Seas
to form very large populations that dominate the zooplankton community and
clog fishing nets and trawls, with associated economic impacts
Europe, Baltic Sea and West Coast North America
mass migrations for reproductive purposes. Burrows into river banks and
dykes causing erosion and siltation. Preys on native fish and invertebrate
species, causing local extinctions during population outbreaks. Interferes
with fishing activities
Algae(Red/Brown/ Green Tides)
species with broad ranges
species have been transferred to new areas in ships' ballast water
form Harmful Algae Blooms. Depending on the species, can cause massive kills
of marine life through oxygen depletion, release of toxins and/or mucus.
Can foul beaches and impact on tourism and recreation. 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
and Caspian Seas
Sea and North America
adaptable and invasive. Increases in
numbers and spreads quickly. Competes for food and habitat with native fishes
including commercially important species, and preys on their eggs and young.
times per season and survives in poor water quality
American Comb Jelly
Seaboard of the Americas
Azov and Caspian Seas
rapidly (self fertilising hermaphrodite) under favourable conditions. Feeds
excessively on zooplankton. Depletes zooplankton stocks; altering food web
and ecosystem function. Contributed significantly to collapse of Black and
Asov Sea fisheries in 1990s, with massive economic and social impact. Now
threatens similar impact in Caspian Sea.
in large numbers, reaching 'plague' proportions rapidly in invaded environments.
Feeds on shellfish,
including commercially valuable scallop,
oyster and clam species
Europe (Black Sea)
Western and northern Europe, including Ireland and Baltic Sea;eastern half
of North America
all available hard surfaces in mass numbers. Displaces native aquatic life.
Alters habitat, ecosystem and food web. Causes severe fouling problems on
infrastructure and vessels. Blocks water intake pipes, sluices and irrigation
ditches. Economic costs to USA alone of around
US$750 million to $1 billion between 1989 and 2000
New Zealand, West Coast of the United States, Europe and Argentina
and spreads rapidly, both vegetatively and through dispersal of spores.
Displaces native algae and marine life. Alters habitat, ecosystem and food
web. May affect commercial shellfish stocks through space competition and
alteration of habitat
Australia, South Africa, the United States and Japan
adaptable and invasive. Resistant to predation due to hard shell. Competes
with and displaces native crabs and becomes a dominant species in invaded
areas. Consumes and depletes wide range of prey species. Alters inter-tidal
rocky shore ecosystem
IMO - the International
Maritime Organization - is the United Nations specialized agency with responsibility
for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution
Ballast water management: http://www.imo.org/ome.asp?topic_id=548
For further information please contact:
Lee Adamson, Senior External Relations Officer on 020 7587 3153 (email@example.com)
Natasha Brown, External Relations Officer on 020 7587 3274 (firstname.lastname@example.org).