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News|08 Sep, 2017

The end to alien species invasion in our waters starts today

Invasive fish species in the Baltic Sea - the Round goby (Neogobius melanostomus)

For decades, the cargo vessel’s ballast water, that is, the water pumped into the vessels to give them stability, has been filled in one ocean and then released into another. This leads to the spread of harmful invasive species, also known as alien species, being released in our waters. Today, 8 September the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (BWM Convention) comes into force.

WWF has driven the issue for several years and we are delighted to see an end to one of the ‘longest running sagas in shipping regulation’. After nearly 10 years of sustained advocacy efforts, the Convention has met its ratification criteria and comes into force today! The Ballast Water Convention applies to all vessels in international waters in preventing alien organisms to spread by ships’ ballast water.

Invasive species can benefit from the new environment they are transferred to – in worst case, the local species are outcompeted causing devastating changes to the biodiversity and local ecosystems. It has had devastating ripple effects to the maritime sectors like fisheries and tourism. In 2009, the cost of invasive species was estimated at USD 50 billion, corresponding to Bulgaria’s current GDP. WWF’s latest Living Planet Report shows that invasive species are one of the main reasons that large populations of marine life have disappeared from our global waters.

But now the invasions are going to end.

“An incredibly important decision. The effects we have seen when invasive species take over local ecosystems have caused major damage to nature and economic costs. Vessels must now comply to the regulations and meet the standards required  to only release clean water if this convention is to have any effect,” says Ottilia Thoreson, Director of the WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme.

Just recently in August, there was an alarm that the round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) spread to large parts of the Baltic Sea and threatens local fish species. So it is extremely important that the spread of these types of invasive species is reduced and avoided in future.

All ships in international trade will be required to manage their ballast water and sediments to specific standards, which will lower the risk significantly of translocations and be tailored to a ship-specific ballast water management plan. In order to meet these standards the majority of ships will need to install an on-board system to treat ballast water and eliminate such alien species.

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Why ballast water matters
A ship will pick up ballast water to maintain stability, travel vast distances, and then exchange it in another part of the world. The ballast contains many thousands of organisms (algae, bacteria, larvae) which are then released as alien species into ecosystems where they are not native. Shipping transports 90% of all goods globally, so ballast water translocations are the biggest marine vector. Over the years they have had dramatic environmental and socio-economic impacts.


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Last modified 22/11/19

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