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By Linda Hunter
Biological invasions—the introduction and spread of exotic organisms in regions outside of their native range—has emerged as a major environmental, economic and public health problem tied to the rapid, ongoing expansion in international trade and travel. Recent studies have found that exotic organisms constitute the second greatest threat to biological diversity, ranking below habitat loss and degradation but far above pollution and over harvesting.
The introduction of harmful non-native, or "invasive," plant and animal species can cause irreversible harm to delicately balanced ecosystems, threatening native species by competing for food and spreading diseases.
By far, the biggest source of invasive species is the ballast water that ships take on and discharge as they sail around the world. Cornell University ecologist David Pimentel estimates that invasive species cost the U.S. more than $122 billion annually. A report by the Environmental Defense Fund shows that roughly 400 of the 958 species listed as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Interior Department are at risk from invasive species. Studies have shown that many species of bacteria, plants and animals can survive in ballast water and sediment carried on ships. The discharge of ballast water is a major pathway for the transfer of potentially harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens around the world.
Ballast water is taken on and released by a vessel to maintain trim and stability when loading and unloading cargo. When the water is taken onboard, any organism less than about 1 cm in size in the vicinity of the intake may also be ballasted into the vessel. All or part of the ballast water, and the organisms in the ballast water tanks, may be discharged in port when a ship takes on cargo or fuel. It has been estimated that 21 billion gallons of ballast water are discharged into US ports each year. Thus, ballast water can be a major pathway of new species introduction to aquatic ecosystems. It can contain all sorts of microscopic marine life, including eggs, cysts, larvae, and bacteria.
The Marine Invasive Species Program is a multi-agency effort to control the introduction on Non-Indigenous Species (NIS) from the ballast of ocean-going vessels. Under this program, the Department of Fish and Game is required to conduct studies to determine the level of invasion in the coastal and estuarine waters of the state, and monitor for new introductions to determine whether the program’s ballast control measures are effective.
The Gulf of the Farallones Draft Management Plan proposes regulatory changes that would prohibit releasing any non-native species to the ecosystems protected by the sanctuary. The intent of the prohibition is to protect the biodiversity of the sanctuary’s ecosystems, and to preserve the native functional aspects of the Sanctuary ecosystems, all of which are put at risk by introduced species. Introduced species may become a new form of predator, competitor, disturber, parasite or disease that can have devastating effects upon ecosystems.
When conflicts arise because of differences between overlapping jurisdictions such as those promulgated by the Department of Fish and Game and the National Sanctuary Program, the California Coastal Commission decides the matter. The commission will be meeting in San Francisco on August 8th through 10th to settle the case between a clear Sanctuary mandate to prohibit discharges of ballast water into the sanctuary and strong language prohibiting the introduction of invasive species vs. much weaker rules outlined by the Department of Fish and Game. For information about the upcoming meeting click here.
What can you do?
Contact the Chair of the California Coastal Commission, Patrick Kruer
The Monarch Group
7727 Herschel Ave.
La Jolla, California 92037
Let the commission know that we need strong regulations and oversight to control the effect of invasive species on the Sanctuary, its habitats and wildlife.
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