Strengthen the Legal Framework to Effectively Address Aquatic Invasive Species


© GerardM
Zebra Mussels

The diverse and widespread impact of aquatic invasive species means that they affect nearly all ocean and coastal management programmes. Invasive species threaten biodiversity, marine and upstream industries (fisheries, hydropower, tourism, etc.) and human health. The global economic impacts of invasive aquatic species, including through disruption to fisheries, fouling of coastal industry and infra-structure and interference with human amenity, have been estimated at USD 100 billion per year, while the projected response costs are merely in the range of four per cent of the impact. Moreover, unlike other key threats to marine ecosystems such as habitat loss, pollution and overfishing, impacts of established aquatic invasives are virtually impossible to reverse once a species has established itself.

A lot has been achieved since the call for urgent action from Rio 1992 Conference, including the notable adoption by IMO of the International Convention for the Management and Control of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments, however, until the Convention comes into force and is fully under implementation, risks from invasives will persist. The marine bioinvasions rate has been reported as high as up to one every nine weeks and over 80% of the world’s 232 marine ecoregions reported the presence of invasive species. Invasion of the European Zebra Mussel in the North American Great Lakes, the Asian Golden Mussel in the inland waterways of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay threatening the whole Amazon Basin, the Comb Jelly Fish in the Black and Caspian Seas are some of the classic examples of bioinvasions, mainly mediated through ballast water and hull fouling. The anticipated coming into force of the Convention has catalysed the creation of a completely new ballast water treatment industry already valued in the tens of billions of dollars.

The severe economic and ecological impacts of these invasions provide some of the starkest case studies of the devastating effects of aquatic invasive species. Without timely and globally coordinated measures and a legally binding framework applicable world-wide, the impact of invasive species will only get worse over time. The adoption of an international treaty to address invasions through ships’ ballast water paved the way towards a global approach and demonstrated the effectiveness of Member States working together under the right auspices. This should be followed by a similar response to ships’ hull fouling, possibly the second most significant vector for aquatic invasions and by regulatory measures to control other means of transferring unwanted organisms from one place to another.

Poorly managed aquaculture (and often recreational fisheries) can also result in the invasion of alien species. Such is the case of tilapia that can be found in many basins in Latin America and the Caribbean and salmonids that are currently wide spread in the southern hemisphere. Although in both cases there are relevant positive food security and livelihoods effects from the farming and fishing of these species. FAO has made important efforts to guide the proper use of alien species in aquaculture and this has been clearly expressed in article 9 of the Code and in specific guidelines.

The global efforts need to focus on building the right legal framework to address aquatic invasions in a coordinated and consistent manner. Without such a focused, sustained and coordinated approach, the significant progress achieved since Rio 1992 will not be capitalised on, and the global benefits and momentum accrued so far in addressing one of the greatest threats to world’s oceans may well be lost.

Main objectives of the Proposal

1. Accelerate the global efforts to bring the ballast water and sediments management convention into force.

2. Continue the efforts to implement the voluntary guidelines on hull fouling and, based on the lessons learned, invite the IMO to explore the possibility of progressing towards a more effective instrument to address this issue.

3. Identify ongoing threats including species and pathways and prevent movement and utilisation of potentially invasive species into specific areas of ecological importance without proper risk assessment and management.

4. Working with industry, facilitate the development of mechanisms for compliance with regulatory measures.

5. Develop and promote the use of market instruments to control/ manage invasive species transfers.

6. Increase scientific knowledge of aquatic invasive species, and improve its availability and dissemination.

7. Continued innovation in ballast water treatment technologies catalysed by anticipated coming into force of ballast water convention.

Expected results

Decline (or halt) of the introduction of new invasive species and reduction in the adverse impacts from existing species through technology innovation, coordinated global monitoring and enforcement and effective international, regional and national responses.

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