Fellow Story

Cohen connects coral decline to ballast discharge

Andrew Cohen’s letter to the editor in the Washington Post points out that ballast discharge is an important factor in coral reef disease and decline. He writes: 

“In recent years, coral reefs in Florida and elsewhere in the Caribbean have been devastated by outbreaks of two waterborne diseases: stony coral tissue loss disease and an unnamed sea urchin disease caused by a newly described microorganism. The latter has eliminated more than 90 percent of the urchins from some sites; with the urchins gone, algae overgrow and destroy reefs. Both diseases spread partly through ballast water that ships take aboard to adjust buoyancy, and both were likely introduced to Florida and the Caribbean in ballast discharges.” 

“The Clean Water Act requires treatment of ballast discharges with the best available technology, which would remove harmful organisms, including those that cause animal and human diseases. However, the Environmental Protection Agency has refused to set the discharge standards that the act requires. Last year, 34 members of Congress and 180 environmental and public health organizations, water agencies and Native American tribes asked the Biden administration to obey the Clean Water Act and set the requisite standards; the EPA never replied. The spread of harmful organisms via ballast water is a solvable problem, and we are ill-served by a federal agency that refuses to take the steps needed to solve it.”