Archive for the ‘Vol 8 No 2 – June 2009’ Category

A Step Toward a Better Solution

Thursday, September 17th, 2009
This treatment system filters ballast water and then zaps it with UV light to kill remaining organisms. It underwent testing at the Maritime Environmental Resource Center in March 2009.

This treatment system filters ballast water and then zaps it with UV light to kill remaining organisms. It underwent testing at the Maritime Environmental Resource Center in March 2009.

One thing I’ve learned lately is that ballast water tanks that ships use for stability can cause big headaches.  For one thing, when filled with water they can act like an aquarium for all kinds of critters and carry them across oceans. Those species can set up shop in a whole new spot once they get dumped overboard at the next port of call.  For another thing, swapping ballast water in mid-ocean — the technique required by the U.S. and many other governments as a way to get rid of unwanted hitchhikers — can be dangerous. One freighter literally flipped on its side when a mid-ocean ballast water exchange went wrong.

I wrote about all this in an article for Chesapeake Quarterly last June, where I noted that many were calling for a change in approach to better protect ecosystems from invasive species.  Now the beginnings of change have come.

On August 28th, 2009, the Coast Guard published proposed rules that include standards for treating — not exchanging — ballast water. This opens the door for installing systems on board ships — things like filters, chemicals, UV rays, etc. — that kill organisms and eliminate the need for exchange.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) created standards for treatment in 2004, and technology companies have been busy developing systems to meet them, often borrowing ideas from the wastewater treatment field. But until now, the U.S. did not recognize treatment as a viable option. Ships were stuck spending time and manpower on exchange.

The Coast Guard’s new rules would change that.

Under the proposed regulations, all new ships built after January 1, 2012, must include treatment systems that meet standards regarding the number of living organisms allowed in discharged ballast water. The standards mirror the ones created by the IMO in 2004. Compliance on existing ships and those built before 2012 depends on their ballast capacity, with all ships using treatment systems by 2016. That’s Phase One.

Phase Two would require ships to comply with a standard that is about 1,000 times stricter, as of 2016.

Mario Tamburri, director of the Maritime Environmental Resource Center (MERC) in Baltimore, Maryland, calls the proposed rulemaking “a reasonable and logical way to go.” He notes that since the IMO’s 2004 convention on ballast water, only six systems have been certified as meeting the IMO — and now the U.S. — standard.

“It’s not real easy to do,” he says. He thinks the stricter Phase Two standard “should be the ultimate goal,” but that it will require innovation — “technologies or treatments that we haven’t even thought of yet.”

For this reason, he’s pleased that the Coast Guard has planned for a review process over the next several years to assess whether reaching such a high standard will be possible.

Tamburri and his team will be on the frontline testing treatment systems through their work at MERC. Before the new Coast Guard regulations, MERC primarily tested systems striving to achieve the IMO standard for use on foreign ships abroad. Now, systems could be installed on U.S. ships. He says that from now on any data collected at their test facility will also address Coast Guard needs.

The proposed regulations are available for public comment until November 27. After that, the Coast Guard and related agencies will work on addressing feedback and making necessary changes.

Tamburri doesn’t anticipate any major objections from either the environmental community or the shipping industry. Both groups are anxious for change. Given this, he’s hopeful the regulations will be finalized by early next year.

“There’s a lot of motivation to move now. To help solve the problem now.”

For all the coastal ecosystems throughout the world facing the effects of invasive species, now sounds like a good time.

To view the proposed rules visit:

A Female First

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

While probing the topic of invasive species for an article in Chesapeake Quarterly, I was struck by the diversity of people involved in this issue in some way. There are academics, biologists, engineers, and natural resource managers — people who grapple with invasive species day in and day out. Then there are those for whom invasive species become just one small part of their job. People like Jerome Brown and his inspection team from the U.S. Coast Guard, or Captain Escoto from the freighter, Tamoyo Maiden. And Kathy Metcalf from the shipping industry.

Whenever you speak with so many different people, you hear interesting stories — stories that can appear out of context, stories you want to pass on. Kathy Metcalf has one of those stories.

There’s not much decoration on the walls of Kathy Metcalf’s office at the Chamber of Shipping of America. To get to work, she takes the Amtrak train to Washington, D.C.’s Union Station from her home in Pennsylvania. Because of the long commute, she simply hasn’t bothered to schlep many personal belongings down in her years of working in Washington. Not even her college diploma – which becomes part of the story.

Metcalf graduated from high school in Dover, Delaware in 1972. The daughter of an Air Force officer, she dreamed of attending a United States Military Academy, particularly West Point. “I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” she says. A top student, she received nominations from her state senator, Pete du Pont, and applied for admittance to West Point as well as the Air Force and Naval Academies.

But there was one thing wrong with her application. She was not a “he.” The military academies all rejected Metcalf, sending her letters explaining that they could not accept her because she was female.

Though disappointed, Metcalf moved on and enrolled at the University of Delaware. In the fall of her sophomore year she was hanging out in her dorm room when someone came in and told her she had a call on the hall telephone. The caller’s identity shocked her.

It was Joe Biden, the newly minted senator from Delaware.

Biden had been reviewing his predecessor’s files. He said, “I understand you’re interested in going to one of the federal academies,” Metcalf recalls. “And I just wanted you to know that the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is opening its doors to women next year.”

Getting past the fact that a U.S. Senator was calling her in her dorm was hard enough, Metcalf remembers. Realizing that this could be her opportunity to attend a military academy was even harder. It wasn’t West Point. But it was as close to her dream as she could get at the time. She told the Senator that she was definitely interested. Visiting the campus in Kings Point, NY, with her father helped seal the deal. She fell in love with the place.

When the Merchant Marine Academy formally accepted Metcalf, she became the first woman appointed to a federal academy “by about 2 hours and 13 minutes.” But who’s counting? The Academy called Senator Biden first. He held a press conference in his office in Wilmington, complete with television crews. Metcalf, who was a bit embarrassed by the hoopla, puts the experience in perspective. “I’m not anything special. It’s a good example that it’s better to be lucky than smart any day.”

Metcalf started the Academy with 16 other women; 8 of them graduated. After graduation, she launched into a career in the shipping business and ultimately earned her law degree and began working in Washington, D.C. on issues facing the shipping industry. Issues like combating invasive species.

Years after Senator Biden helped her earn an appointment to the Merchant Marine Academy, Metcalf re-introduced herself to him on one of her Amtrak train rides into D.C. Biden was a regular on the route from Wilmington to Washington, and Metcalf would see him occasionally. She told him the story of how he had shaped her life, and he said he remembered her.

But Metcalf hasn’t seen Biden on the train recently. She thinks she knows why.

“I hear he moved,” she deadpans.

Joking aside, she says she was excited for him to get the opportunity to be vice president. She knows a few things herself about seizing opportunities.