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The US Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that ship ballast water – often a witches' brew of microbes, eggs, plants and creatures (some as much as a foot long) – must be treated before it is released.
Environmentalists sued the EPA over ballast's exemption from the Clean Water Act.
Cruise ships, which use ballast water to stabilize their ride, dump as much as 70 thousand liters of the nasty cocktail every day. But they are not the biggest culprits. There are huge tankers and cargo ships that must be weighed down when they are empty and thousands of rust-buckets that don't really care about the rules. Most cruise ships are fairly modern and can be retrofitted with treatment systems.
What's in this stuff? The International Maritime Organization believes some 7 thousand species hitch a ride on ships daily. Some of these non-natives have wreaked havoc: a cholera bug tracked to Bangladesh turned up in Peru, killing more than 10 thousand people. Asian kelp has invaded San Francisco Bay. Something aptly nicknamed rock vomit is spreading across the ocean floor off of Alaska, threatening sea life. The zebra mussel was introduced to the Great Lakes by a freighter in 1988 and has since caused some $5 billion in damage, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It grabs onto anything it can and clogs up intake valves and jams engines. A female zebra mussel lays 100 to 500 thousand eggs a year.
Ironically, the Great Lakes have been exempted from the new rules, so environmentalists are still fuming. But the new rule is a start.