"This is a milestone year for marine biodiversity and the sustainable use of the oceans with the entry into force, on 8 September, of the International Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention. This key treaty aims to reduce the transfer of potentially harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens through ships’ ballast water", said Mr Kitack Lim, IMO Secretary General.

Credit: IMO

One of the main challenges needing to be overcome is that ballast water discharge looks like clean water with the majority of species too small to see with the naked eye.

Since 2000, and driven by the desire to mitigate the impacts of harmful aquatic invasions, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and IMO have worked together under the GloBallast Partnerships Programme (GloBallast) to foster an international and public-private cooperation in the area of ballast water management.

GloBallast recognised that tackling a global environmental threat such as hat posed by aquatic invasive species was particularly challenging for a variety of interconnected reasons:

  • The transboundary nature of global shipping meant that for any regulatory framework to achieve its goals, implementation needed to occur
    at an international level. This can be a lengthy process with member States and other stakeholders all needing to reach agreement. For ballast
    water management, an already lengthy process was made more problematic by an almost universal lack of understanding, outside of a niche
    scientific community, of what can be an invisible issue that is complex both scientifically and socio-economically.
  • Even after the adoption of the Convention, there were virtually no commercially available, fully tested and approved ballast water treatment solutions that could be installed on merchant vessels to offer an alternative to conducting ballast water management. It was clear that a mechanism for accelerating research into, and commercial development of, such systems was a pressing need. Furthermore, it became apparent that the method of ensuring any systems were able to perform the function for which they were required needed to be consistent.
  • It was recognised that when the Convention eventually met the conditions necessary for ratification and subsequent entry into force, many countries would have insufficient institutional and legal frameworks to be able to implement the treaty at the national level. On one hand developing countries had concerns due to numerous societal needs competing for limited financial resources and on the other hand there were also concerns raised by developed countries around the level of technical preparation required.

Ballast water is just one of the major vectors for the transfer of invasive species. Another common vector is hull fouling, whereby harmful organisms attach themselves to the outer hulls of ships and are carried and released into new environments. Because of these parallels, a strategy which tackles threats posed by both ballast water and hull fouling would certainly minimise the future risk of aquatic invasions and subsequent impacts on natural ecosystems and local economies across the globe.

2017 is likely to be remembered as a turning point in the protection of the marine environment. World leaders convene at the United Nations in New York, for what is being described as ‘the opportunity of a generation’ to pledge support for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG 14), which calls for a concerted global effort to ‘conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources’.

The UN Ocean Conference sets about initiating concrete actions to reverse the decline in the ocean health – thus ensuring a sustainable future for the planet, its population and their prosperity. Achieving such an ambitious goal will doubtless require actively engaging with and building new collaborations between multiple stakeholders – an approach closely mirroring the strategies employed by GloBallast.

Further details may be found by reading the full report: