Students learn about Lake Superior at MTUís Water Festival
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4 | How do invasive species get here?
Once NOBOB and BOB ships arrive in another port of call, the water held in ballast tanks is discharged, exchanged or water is added. This ballast exchange may occur at multiple ports of call during a vessel's long journey. Larger vessels often carry millions of gallons of ballast water and, with more than 80 percent of the world's commodities carried on ships, that is a lot of water traveling around the globe every year!
But it is not only water or sediments that goes into ballast tanks. When ballast water is pumped into the ship at a port, it includes organisms found in that port. These organisms range in size from microscopic phytoplankton and zooplankton to crabs and fish. According to MIT Sea Grant, it is estimated that as many as 3,000 exotic species are carried in ships' ballast every day around the globe.
Those organisms that survive the trip are ultimately released when the ballast water is discharged at the final port destination. In many cases, the nonindigenous species are not kept in check by the indigenous predators and competitors they might find in their native waters. Therefore, they have a very good chance of increasing their population and out-competing native organisms for food and space. Though not all species brought in ballast water have disastrous effects on the Great Lakes (or even survive the trip), zebra mussels are a good example of the ecological and economic damage ballast-borne invasive species can cause.Other routes of invasion
Although ballast water is considered the primary pathway of invasion into the Great Lakes, nonindigenous species have been introduced to the lakes in the following ways:
Graphic: Ballast water release. Courtesy L. David Smith/MIT Sea Grant.