Canadian government to invest more than $12 million in combatting invasive species

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra committed $12.5 million in funding Wednesday to launch the Ballast Water Innovation Program aimed at keeping invasive species out of the Great Lakes.

“This is done under the Oceans Protection Plan which has been the largest investment that Canada has ever made in protecting our oceans and waterways,” Alghabra said.

The program will help fund research projects, and provide innovative solutions to keep invasive species out of local waters.

Ballast water helps balance a ship when passing through waterways. When that water is taken on from one region, like Europe, and expelled into another (the Great Lakes), it could introduce invasive aquatic species.

“The Zebra Mussel which entered the Great Lakes through discharged ballast water causes almost $250-million in costs on the Great Lakes every year in Ontario alone,” Alghabra offered as an example.

The species threatens important infrastructure like power stations, water treatment plants and causes damages to commercial vessels and personal watercrafts, according to Alghabra.

Hugh MacIsaac, a professor at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, says the money earmarked for the Ballast Water Innovation program will go a long way.

“All of the systems that are being put on board ships to try and reduce species introductions are all based upon effectiveness in marine systems,” he said.

According to MacIsaac, no one knows what the effectiveness of those systems will be when coming into the Great Lakes.

“Most of them are based on using chlorine from the ocean to kill organisms that are contained in the ballast water. We don’t have a lot of chlorine in the Great Lakes so these systems may not be as effective,” he said.

He points to a study done by a Canadian colleague that showed 14 out of 29 ships exceeded, and in some cases grossly exceeded, the number of living organisms allowed even though they were using water treatment systems.

By next year, MacIsaac says all vessels operating on the international scene will require ballast water treatment systems on board.

“We want to make sure that ballast water treatment works the way we want it to on the Great Lakes and I’m very pleased to see that the minister and the government is going to fund that type of work,” he said.

Applications are being accepted through Transport Canada for research funding until May 10. Approved projects are expected to begin in 2023.