They are far from home, in a place they do not belong. Their presence has caused conflict with the natives and destabilized the region. As the death and destruction have increased, so have their numbers. Despite the dire circumstances, little of substance is being done to change course. And the calamity only worsens.
This is not Iraq (though it well could be) but the Great Lakes region of North America. And the foreign invaders are not U.S. troops but non-native species like the zebra mussel and the goby and dozens of others. They have traveled to this continent in the ballast water of oceangoing ships and made themselves at home, much to the detriment of the natives. This is what happens when humans tinker or interfereâ€”intentionally or notâ€”with the natural order of things. Some lessons are dangerously slow to be learned. Is it too late to change?
From the Detroit Free Press:
Oceangoing vessels should be banned from the Great Lakes until Congress passes a law requiring ships to sanitize their ballast water, an environmental coalition said Wednesday. The goal is to prevent the release of more nonnative creatures into the world’s greatest source of surface fresh water.
“Invasive species are destroying the Great Lakes,” said Jeff Skelding, campaign director of Healing Our Waters, which includes 90 groups in the United States and Canada. “It’s time to fight back.”
The annual cost to try to control species such as zebra mussels has ballooned to $5 billion each year, he said.
A sweeping Great Lakes funding bill that includes requirements for ships to sanitize their ballast water has languished in Congress for five years, Skelding said. Another bill that targets ballast was introduced this week.
On Jan. 1, Michigan became the first state to require ships to get permits to prove they have treated their ballast before entering Michigan ports. The shipping industry has sued the state in federal court to stop the requirement.
“We’re getting at least one new species each season,” said Jennifer Nalbone, campaign director of Great Lakes United, which first called for a moratorium in March. At least 183 invasive aquatic species have entered the Great Lakes since the 1800s. [full text]