European Commission urges Member States to ratify and implement Ballast Water Convention to address problem of bio-invasions

Last week the European Commission published a new Communication on Biodiversity, the term given to the total variety, complexity and interactions of all life on Earth. The document addresses the problems related to the continuous decline of biodiversity, which implies a decline of the so-called “ecosystem services”, such as the production of food, fuel, fibre and medicines, the regulation of water, air and climate, the maintenance of soil fertility, and the cycling of nutrients. 

In a chapter of particular relevance to the maritime industry the Commission identifies actions related to the negative effect on biodiversity of invasive alien species. The problem of invasive species has largely arisen due to increasing trade and traffic volumes over the last few decades. Evidence shows that ships’ ballast water is a significant source of invasive alien species. 

In an annex to the Communication the Commission encourages Member States to ratify and implement the IMO Convention for the Control and Management of Ship's Ballast Water and Sediment and sets itself the goal of proposing to Member States the establishment of an early warning systemfor the prompt exchange of information between neighbouring countries on the emergence of invasive alien species and to improve cooperation on control measures across national boundaries. 

The spread of invasive alien species exerts key pressures on biodiversity although the relative importance of the pressure varies from place to place. Globalisation, including European trade, increases pressures on biodiversity by, inter alia, increasing demands on natural resources, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, and facilitating the spread of invasive alien species.  

Overcoming bio-invasions can be very costly. Specific examples include the appearance of the European zebra mussel in the Great Lakes between Canada and the United States, resulting in expenses of billions of dollars for pollution control and cleaning of fouled underwater structures and water pipes; and the introduction of the American comb jelly to the Black and Azov Seas, causing the near extinction of anchovy and sprat fisheries. 

Action for the prevention and control of invasive alien species is already called for in the Sixth Environment Action Programme and is in line with the Convention on Biological Diversity’s decision on invasive alien species, to which the Community and MemberStates are parties.  

The Communication may be obtained by clicking here and the annexes by clicking here. 

Contact: Tim Wilkins