WWF is delighted that another regulatory milestone has at last been achieved, after nearly 10 years of sustained advocacy efforts. The entry into force of the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention has been called ‘one of the longest running sagas in shipping regulation’. With Finland’s accession on 8 September, the Convention finally met its ratification criteria and will thus come into force in 2017.
“WWF has been a tireless advocate for this critical measure in the Baltic Sea and around the globe, to halt the spread of potentially invasive aquatic species in ships’ ballast water. This decision follows closely upon the International Maritime Organization’s agreement on the designation of the Baltic Sea as a special area for sewage discharges from passenger ships under Annex IV of the MARPOL Convention. It demonstrates, yet again, that long-term advocacy for the sensitive Baltic Sea does indeed pay off.” says Pauli Merriman, Director of WWF Baltic Ecoregion Programme. Merriman continues, “With further dramatic increases in shipping expected in the region, all efforts to improve the environmental performance and sustainability of marine transports are needed. This will remain a focus for WWF’s long-term advocacy efforts.”
Every day, an estimated 10,000 marine and coastal species travel unnoticed across the world’s oceans, silent stowaways in ships’ ballast water tanks. When released in a new environment, these unwanted travellers can become invasive, out-competing and changing native flora and fauna. The translocation of alien species has been described as one of the biggest threats to marine biodiversity and more often than not is irreversible.
The 2004 International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) BWM Convention is widely accepted by governments and the global shipping industry as the only international instrument that can prevent trading ships from continuing to spread harmful invasive species via transfers of ballast water. Although another year will pass before it enters into force (8 September 2017), this marks a landmark step towards halting an onslaught which can devastate biodiversity and local ecosystems, and incur significant economic costs.
“We are thrilled that the Convention will finally enter into force after so many years of international and national negotiations. This shows that even a small country like Finland, which represents only a fraction of global shipping tonnage, can have a big influence on marine protection and should never shy away from its global responsibilities” says Vanessa Ryan, Marine Conservation Officer at WWF Finland.
Under the Convention’s terms, ships will be required to manage their ballast water to remove, render harmless, or avoid the uptake or discharge of aquatic organisms and pathogens within ballast water and sediments.
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.
According to Dr. Simon Walmsley, shipping expert in WWF’s Ocean Practice, “This is a biological issue not a normal engineering solution so quite a departure from the norm for the IMO, its member states and the shipping industry. Although there are still issues with implementation and enforcement of the Convention which need to be addressed, this significant step has the potential to control the translocations of alien species via this vector and reduce the associated impacts dramatically.”
All ships will also have to carry a ballast water record book and an International Ballast Water Management Certificate. The ballast water performance standard will be phased in over a period of time. Most ships will need to install an on-board system to treat ballast water and eliminate unwanted organisms.
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.