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Evaluation of Ships' Ballast Water as a Vector for Transfer of Pathogenic Bacteria to Marine Protected Areas in the Gulf of Mexico
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An average of three to five billion tons of ballast water (BW) is transported globally per year; 79 million tons of which is released into U. S. waters. Ballast water is necessary for large ships to maintain balance and stability while loading and unloading cargo as well as during transit. As a ship unloads it’s cargo at a port, it takes on ballast water and then when it loads cargo at the next port, it discharges the ballast water, thus transferring water from port to port. Aquatic organisms are transported around the globe via ballast water. These organisms can potentially cause serious environmental and human health impacts. Historically, transfer of macro-organisms such as fish, snails, and vascular plants via ballast water have been the focus of ballast water research. More recently, microorganisms such as toxin producing dinoflagellates and diatoms i.e. ‘harmful algal blooms’ and pathogenic bacteria (e.g. Vibrio cholerae), have been found to survive in ballast tanks for several weeks. These organisms have moved to the forefront of ballast water management (BWM) trepidations because they compose serious threats to human health as well as Marine Protected Area (MPA) ecosystems such as coral reefs. Ballasting activities of ships calling at the Port of Houston were used as a model for other major ports in U.S. Gulf States. Ballast water management reports, submitted to the U.S. Coast Guard by all overseas vessels calling at the Port of Houston in 2010 were examined for the ballast management strategies utilized prior to docking. Currently, all “coastwise” ships are not required to conduct ballast water exchanges (BWE) if they do not transit beyond the 200nm EEZ. Close inspection of BW management report forms for “overseas” ships determined that the degree of completeness was variable. By comparing the frequency of vessels entering the Port of Houston, ballast water capacities, the management types utilized, and the locations of ballast water exchanges and discharges, it can be concluded that larger vessels present the highest risk of bacterial transfer to coral reefs. Five coral diseases were discovered to be prevalent throughout the ballast management areas their presence has significantly increased in these areas over the past thirty years. The combination of this disease growth along with an increase in shipping and ballast exchanges suggests that the vector at which pathogens are being displaced must lie within the shipping lanes.
Morris, Theresa L (2013). Evaluation of Ships' Ballast Water as a Vector for Transfer of Pathogenic Bacteria to Marine Protected Areas in the Gulf of Mexico. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from