Vessel reporting a weak link in national strategy to stem the flow of alien organisms to the U.S.

Of the estimated 100,000 ships entering U.S. ports from foreign waters each year, only 30 percent reported their ballast water management practices during the first two years that the U.S. Coast Guard mandated them to under the National Invasive Species Act of 1996 (NISA). The finding has prompted the Secretary of Transportation to recommend, in a report to Congress, that future noncompliance carry a penalty.

The recommendations stemmed from the first biennial report of the National Ballast Information Clearinghouse, a collaborative effort of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) and the U.S. Coast Guard, managed and operated by SERC since 1997. The National Ballast Information Clearinghouse data and biennial report are now publicly accessible at http://invasions.si.edu/whats.htm.

Ships' ballast water, used to maintain stability, is a leading mechanism for the unwanted transfer of non-native marine- and freshwater species throughout the world. Decades of research indicate that ballast water contains a diverse and often dense community of organisms - from fishes and crabs to bacteria and viruses. Upon discharge during normal ballast operations, hundreds to thousands of non-native species are introduced to U.S. coastal waters daily, and some of these organisms gain a foothold and spread. It is clear that many such biological invasions can alter dramatically the function of our ecosystems, cause significant economic losses and pose risks to human health.

Aquatic nonindigenous species first earned legislative attention in the United States in 1990, after zebra mussels from Eurasia clogged water supply pipes serving municipalities in the Great Lakes region. However, this was not an isolated event. Non-native species are established along every coast of the U.S., and scores to hundreds of non-native species are known to reside in individual bays and estuaries - like Chesapeake Bay and San Francisco Bay - which are focal po

Contact: A. Whitman Miller
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

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