The greatest threat to biodiversity in the oceans

-Josefin Johansson

This week we’ve been learning about the environmental consequences of shipping. One part included ballast water transported in cargo vessels. The ballast water is stabilizing vessels when cargo isn’t loaded on or in it since the ships often isn’t built to travel empty. It’s also needed in order to compensate for different salinity levels in the oceans which affects the buoyancy of the .

This subject is an important one since the ballast water going long distances contain species from other ecosystems which can be problematic and sometimes even disastrous. According to the Swedish project Advantage Environment, driven and owned by the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, tens of thousands m3 of water can be with one vessel alone. I’ve experienced a lot of problems with the invasive Spanish snail in my garden and seen what it is capable of doing in terms of eating loads, having tremendous survival skills and an efficient reproduction. Thus it never occurred to me that species such as my horrible garden guest could be introduced in to a distant area in a completely new environment in such an expansive (for invasive species that is).

An article in “Svenska dagbladet” from 2006 described the pace of changing ecosystems in the Baltic Sea and Skagerrak with its surroundings as a “McDonaldsification” of the maritime biosphere. New species introduced in an ocean can be a great danger to the ecosystems and might at its worst exterminate entire species. The main reason for this rapid introduction of new, sometimes invasive, species is said to be from ballast water from cargo vessels. According to the article the situation has worsened due to warmer climate but also regulations imposing the use of double-hull cargo vessels. This means that the water temperature remain stable and thus more of the algae and plankton survive the journey across the oceans. As we’ve learned in the course and what is also told in the article the Baltic Sea is especially endangered since it lacks in biodiversity, it’s already unbalanced and have relatively young ecosystems and on top of that low amounts of predatory fish due to over fishing.

In September 2016 IMO, the International Maritime Organisation, could finally enforce the Ballast Management Convention. It took them many years to get enough countries signing the convention, equivalent to 35 percent of the total tonnage transport. This convention demand ship owners to handle the organisms and pathogens in their ballast water meaning a cleaning system for the ballast water needs to be installed. This is for international trade with the start in September 2017 (Wärtsilä, 2016). According to a Wärtsilä, a technical maritime engineering company, more than 29.000 active vessels are without these cleaning systems and will need an approved cleaning solution installed when dry-docking the next time after the date mentioned above.

Miljönytta present the following techniques that can be used in order to clean the ballast water: chemicals, ultrasound, heating and ozone. Engineers also try to develop and construct ships that don’t need ballast water at all or just small amounts of it.

I feel this post is showing that change is happening and that in a positive way. The fact that more than 29.000 vessels will need to be equipped with cleaning system for the ballast water made me reflect on how much water that is

Me, as a soon to be traffic engineer, with some knowledge about efficient truck logistics, couldn’t help reflecting on the possibilities of improving and implementing solutions so that the cargo vessels get loaded in both directions. Filling the ships with goods rather than water. By this I mostly think of container vessels. Oil tankers is of course harder to fill in both ways but there are such examples as well such as OBO-ships (Ore Bulk Oil Carrier). However, I understand this demands both highly developed logistic solutions and that the import and export from the docks are pretty much the same and are going in the opposite direction which probably isn’t the case. But when this is the case – it might be a future improvement to aim for, both for economy as for the environment. I believe container cargo vessels have the best prerequisites for this, obviously it’s hard to implement for oil tankers.

/Josefin Johansson



  • Advantage Environment. 2013. ”Problem för ovälkomna fripassagerare”. 20130515.

  • Rådelius, Maja-Lena. 2006.Främmande arter intar Östersjön”. Svd. 20061124.

  • Wärtsilä. 2016. “Ny utveckling inom ballastvatten”.

New ballast water regulations are closing in on the shipping industry

-Ellinor Forsström

After 13 years of preparations and negotiations the date when the Ballast Water Management convention (BWM) is taken into force, but what is it that makes it possible now? By the 8 of September this year the new regulations, which aims to prevent the spread of aquatic organisms, is taken into action by the international chamber of shipping (ICS). The purpose is to ensure that ships trading in international water must have a ship-specific Ballast Water Management System (BWMS) installed that is approved both according to the flag state and the international maritime organization (IMO). Should a vessel carry the flag of a country, which have not accepted the BWM, they are still required to meet its standards when entering a port in a country that has ratified the system. Faced with the fact that only a few months remains before the BWM is being initiated the shipping industry is overall confident of meeting the standard in time. Due to the rigorous work that has been made during the last decade the industry is now well-prepared for the changes ahead. Both equipment manufacturers and engineering companies have put extra effort to ensure that the equipment necessary to comply with the new rules are made commercially available, and today there are over 60 types of approved systems out on the market.


However, there are still some concerns when it comes to how this regulation will affect the shipping industry. Experts has estimated that the ratifications of this system will cost the global maritime industry upward 75 billion USD. The prices per vessel will depend on several factors like the size, ballast water capacity and type of treatment, but it is expected to be in the range of half a million to five million USD. In addition to this, other cost are expected to follow with the new technology linked to the maintenance and operation. This has caused great concern in an already depressed market which has made several ship owners hesitant to the suggestion and created a barrier for some countries to be a part of the convention. One country that has not approved this is the U.S, which has come up with their own plan called U.S. Ballast Water Regulations. This will mean that a vessel entering an American port and trade on international water need to comply with both systems which have caused many ship owners to wonder if they will be able to continue the routes they have taken in the past.

Although all of these concerns are valid, there are also some positive consequences that are expected to follow, set aside the environmental benefits, with the new regulation. Due to the additional cost, the existing over supply of vessels is expected to decrease. These predictions are based on the fact that many vessels that are more than 15 years would be taken out of service. This will also force the industry to get more efficient when it comes to planning their routes, due to the fact that fewer ships are available.

The news of that the implementation of stricter regulations when it comes to ballast water is of course very positive. The number of sustainability challenges that follows with badly handled water treatment is many and it threatens both aquatic ecosystems and human health. By that, it is most satisfying to read that the industry thinks they are up for the challenge. However this article pinpoints one big concern when it comes to global shipping policies. It is very dependent on collaboration and unity to work in a smooth and rewarding way.



Microplastics – How does it affect us?

-Christoffer Nilsson


This picture illustrates that some fish die due to microplastics before they reach maturity age and they don´t get the possibility to reproduce.

Plastic waste is being discharged into the oceans in a much faster pace than it degrades. It has been suggested that plastic might never degrade completely and it is believed that by the year 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.

Microplastics is the term used for pieces of plastic smaller than 5mm. Microplastics can be very harmful for all living organisms on the planet including the homo sapiens. Since plastic is not biodegradable it takes very long time before it “disappears” from the oceans. Some microplastics originate from bigger pieces of plastic which deteriorate to smaller pieces, another source of microplastics is beauty product such as face scrub, moisturizers etc. They contain microbeads (manufactured small solid microplastics) and when we take a shower or wash ourselves, we wash them straight down the drain and some of the microbeads end up in the oceans. According to a survey conducted in 2012 a total of 4360 tons microbeads were used in beauty products only in the European Union. Fortunately, many countries has started to ban the use of microbeads in beauty products. Some of these countries are; UK, Ireland, Canada and some states in the US.
Another source of microplastics is plastic bags, which is used widely all over the world. Some countries including France have banned the use of nondegradable plastic bags that are thinner than 50 microns. The thicker can still be sold since they can be used multiple times. There is also an update in European Union directive 94/62/EG aiming to reduce the consumption of lightweight plastic bags. The update is not as strict as the French ban but its aim is that each person should not consume more than 40 lightweight plastic bags per year by 2025. In Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary and Portugal each person uses more than 500 plastic bags per year.

The big problem with microplastics is that oceanic organisms, birds, fish and marine mammals either gets it in their system by mistake or eats the microplastic particles and they potentially end up in humans. Microplastic often contains chemicals that are added during the manufacturing process, plastic is also very good at absorbing chemicals from the surrounding seawater. Studies has shown that fish, shellfish, marine mammals and birds that ingest microplastic may starve and/or lose their reproductive abilities. The effects of this can cause drastic consequences in the future, for example huge reduction in fish and shellfish stocks and the extinction of several species. This will of course lead to less food being available for marine mammals and human beings. Since a lot of the food we consume comes from the oceans, you can only start to imagine what consequences a “breakdown” of the marine ecosystem would have for us.



DNA technology will be used to discover presence of invasive species

-Tobias Hedin

The Ballast Water Management Convention is a trety from the International Maritime Organization which will enter into force in September of 2017. This convention is designed to prevent invasive species to be spread into sensitive water via ballast water from ships. Requirements that all ships must have a ballast water management plan are included in the convention.

A new method, built on genetic engineering, has been researched at the University of Gothenburg and will be a part of this preventive work. The technology is based on the fact that all living organisms will release some DNA molecules when they are in water. The method is used to discover invasive species in seas where ships take their ballast water. When taking samples from the water the scientist can decide from short DNA strings if invasive species are present.


DNA string (

The technology is not new but the purpose is. It’s already used in environmental monitoring but will now contribute to protect sensitive water from invasive species. By using the information from the samples the crew can avoid obtaining ballast water containing invasive species and transport them to sensitive waters. The technology must develop and end up in an analysing instrument that the crew on board can use for gathering data of the presumptive ballast water instead of having scientists on board all the time. This will not reduce the need for arrangement against transporting invasive species on the hull.


Climate Changes affects ecosystems and mental health

-Varvara Sachpazidou

The last decades, climate changes increase in temperature and precipitations have caused impacts on humans and natural ecosystems all over the globe (see illustration). The effects of extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, floods, hurricanes and fires shows that the vulnerability and exposure to climate changes might be greater for the specific ecosystems (e.g. desert areas, islands). Human populations are also affected significantly as the effects of climate change have caused substantial economic and social problems with the greatest of all mental and physical human health disorders. In all countries regardless of the levels of development, those health consequences combine with a significant lack of knowledge and state of readiness to the current climate variability in certain areas. The following figure shows the most important consequences of extreme conditions and climate enumeration of facts that have been happening in global level.


Impacts of climate change (

The fifth Intergovernmental Panel Assessment Report on Climate Change IPCC defines the term “impacts” or “consequences” as the effect on natural ecosystem and humans from the changes in climate. The consequences generally refer to the effects and changes in life, lifestyle, health, ecosystems, economies, societies, cultures, services and infrastructure due to the interaction of climate changes. In addition, the impacts determine the vulnerability of exposed society or ecosystem to climate changes and mentioned to changes in geophysical systems.

Denmark goes around prohibition on cod fishing

-Tobias Hedin

Several cod stocks have collapsed during the past four decades from the North Atlantic to the North Sea, due to overfishing. In January 2008, the EU adopted a long-term plan for the cod stocks by restricting fisheries, and allowing the stocks to recover. The international council for the exploration of the sea (ICES) has also established that the growth of cod in the Baltic Sea is dangerously low, especially in the West Baltic Sea. Therefore a ban on cod fisheries was introduced to ensure the cod stock. Cod fishing is currently prohibited between 1 February and 31 March in the western Baltic Sea.

Despite this prohibition, the Danish government has made it possible for Danish fishermen to catch cod with help of a loophole in the EU-legislation. If you want to catch fish that is not prohibited, for example plaice, and unintendedly get cod in the net, it is totally legal to keep the catch. This is strongly criticized by different environmental organizations. The Danish government limited the catch of cod to 10% of the total weight of fish that the Danish fishermen are allowed to catch. By the government’s use of this loophole, the Danish fishermen can catch more than half of the cod quota for the west Baltic Sea.



Our global efforts give effect

-Niklas Blume

As we talk about the negative effects of our actions on the environment, I decided to look for the positives, and yes there are such.

During 2016, several positive effects were noted around the world. On land, the number of giant pandas and tigers in the world has increased during the past decades.
Several species of birds such as the spoon-bill sandpipers (skedsnäppor) have made a comeback. New species are still being discovered, for example, a spider that looks like a magician’s hat (Harry Potter spider) was recently found in India. New regulations are in place; the trade of ivory has or will be banned in USA, China and Hong Kong, and a US court ruled that future climate events give enough ground to protect some marine mammals (grey seal) already today.

Tying back to the state of Skagerrak it is noticeable that around the world, vast areas of ocean have been declared as marine protected areas. In the Atlantic and Pacific over four million square kilometres was protected and around Hawaii it was decided to quadruple the size of a marine sanctuary. The proportion of the world’s oceans that has been included in a marine protected area or reserve since 1900 represent today about 1% of the ocean surface (see graph). There is some more work to do!

Why is all this important in the great scheme of things? It is important because with combined efforts over the globe we can make progress if we want to and not only in one area but several. For yourself as a single individual it becomes important that your effort to keep an eye of what you do can make a difference in the global picture.
It is also important to understand that despite all the bad news about our environment, there are also good news thanks to all our efforts. There are many more examples like this that can make us feel positive and continue to try to make a difference.


Reference: March 2017