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Marine Transportation of Invasive Species


Vessels act directly as a vector for the introduction of invasive, non-native species to new areas. Invasive, non-native species often out-compete native species and can dramatically reduce biodiversity. This can significantly impair the resilience of coastal and marine ecosystems, resulting in both short-term and long-term economic and environmental impacts. These impacts include but are not limited to:

• Species extinction (reduction of ecosystem diversity)

• Economic loss of natural resources (e.g., aquaculture also some marine life has pharmaceutical applications, and loss of these species would be economically detrimental to local communities).

• Damage to infrastructure (e.g., power plant cooling fouling, built infrastructure degradation).

• Loss of recreational and commercial fisheries opportunities.

Non-native species are carried by vessels in ballast water and by biofouling. Species introduction via ballast water in one place is determined by ballast water intake location and intake quantity. Species carried by biofouling is determined by hull area, structure and sailing speed. Both of these effects are influenced by marine traffic volume, vessel sizes, vessel configuration, operating patterns, and frequency of arrivals. Species establishment depends on environmental factors such as temperature, salinity, and PH.

Harm to native environment is poorly understood, however, there is consensus that eradication of invasive species is more difficult and more costly than prevention or invasion risk reduction measures. Technologies and practices can help reduce the introduction rate, such as the use of ballast-free technologies, ballast water exchange, ballast water treatment, and hull treatment. Cost and performance information is needed to strategically select appropriate options for specific locations, including loss and damage estimation and post-damage treatment cost estimation.


Create a cost-effective decision-support system for state and local government agencies, local non-governmental groups and commercial fishing trade associates based on state or local invasive species regulation targets. This system will consider potential quantitative negative effects on local environment without treatment, post-damage treatment cost, and ballast water and biofouling invasive species treatment cost


Better quantification of the effects of invasive species and cost of technologies and practices can help state and local government agencies, local non-governmental groups and commercial fishing associations choose a cost-effective method to reduce invasive species damage. These insights also can inform innovative technology development of more advance options.

Related Research:

Several longstanding efforts have helped to characterize the concerns related to waterborne transport and introduction of invasive species. These studies have informed technology-policy decisions including International Ballast Water Management Convention and U.S. federal law directing authority to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Coast Guard.


The following tasks are not comprehensive. They are intended as a guide to what might be necessary to successfully complete the research:

Phase 1

  • Compile and review local invasive species regulation studies, risk assessments, and proposed or active standards.
  • Compile and summarize vessel activity data (arrival records, including information of departure location, ballast water exchange location and quantity, voyage duration and sailing speed).
  • Access and integrate one or more global water environment (temperature, salinity and PH) database.
  • Construct a model of invasive species establishment risk, and potential damage to local environment.


Phase 2

  • Evaluate cost of potential damages in terms of direct and indirect loss of resources, costs of response or adaptation.
  • Compile, review, and compare the performance and cost of vessel-based and local invasive species treatment methods, including vessels that are designed to not require ballasting.
  • Compile and review preventive practice and technologies on ballast water and biofouling, including onshore and onboard methods.
  • Use performance and cost data to develop strategic objectives and metrics.

Phase 3

  • Enable a dynamic decision support tool that inputs each option with performance and cost into decision-making system.
  • Prepare outreach material and PowerPoint presentation for dissemination to potential users/ stakeholders
  • Demonstrate the system to state and local government agencies, local non-governmental groups and commercial fishing trade associates with their regulation goals

USCG, EPA, costal state governments (Attorneys general of nine states, Governors of seven coastal states), environmental groups such as NRDC, Great Lakes Commission may find this system useful in assess invasive species risk and evaluate ballast water and biofouling regulations and could help implement its application.


Highly relevant to local policy makers who are trying to evaluate options to mitigate introduction of invasive species.

Sponsoring Committee:AW030, Marine Environment
Research Period:Longer than 36 months
Research Priority:Medium
RNS Developer:Richard Billings, Zhaojun Wang, and James Corbett
Source Info:NSF Coastal SEES project funding university collaboration; US DOT META; International Maritime Organization
Date Posted:12/18/2017
Date Modified:02/25/2021
Index Terms:Invasive species, Invasive plants, Biodiversity, Ecosystems, Ballast (Ships), Biofouling, Water traffic, Environmental impacts, Environmental protection,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Marine Transportation

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