By Carla Espinosa and Abigal Cronin | Hola and Dia duit! Our names are Carla and Abi, and we are currently participants on the North South Atlantic Training Transect. We are on board RV Polarstern together with many other researchers, and we took the opportunity to talk to Eva Garcia Vazquez from Oviedo University, España and Anastasjia Zaiko from Cawthron Institute in New Zealand. Both are studying the organisms in ballast water.
Their research aims to analyse the genetic and epigenetic changes shown by the organisms within ballast water. They will try to identify genetic modifications along our trans-equatorial travel in the Atlantic Ocean as a collaborative work for biosecurity ballast water research. Unlike many others ships, the RV Polarstern crew allows sampling of ballast water while underway, the scientists on Polarstern are now carrying out these investigations for the second time.
But first: What is Ballast water? Ballast water is the water mass taken by a ship to maintain stability, for example, during the unloading processes. This water is generally taken along within the ship during an entire trip and with it organisms originating in the departure port. Thus, the ballast water is a sort of floating aquarium. Transport of ballast water is a common practice with cargo ships and due to the large number of ships nowadays in circulation, the massive transport of ballast water around the globe could be problematic. Therefore, ballast water treatment is an important part of maritime legislation and a costly business for the shipping industry.
When this water is released in an arrival port, the ballast organisms are foreigners in the new waters (i. e non- indigenous species). This introduction of new fauna can represent a risk for the natural system. Changes in the structure of the food chain is a problem in coastal zones for various sectors, including fisheries, also, the transfer of organisms opens the door to the free entrance of diseases.
Eva Garcia Vazquez and Anastasjia Zaiko are considering the question whether the cross-latitudinal transport of ballast water may contribute to underway adaptations of organisms. They are examining the species that survive the changing water conditions (such as oxygen availability, temperature, salinity) along the transect, with the hypothesis that they may become strong enough to survive ballast water treatments and transfer into the environment in which they are deposited. Once this new organism has been released, it cannot be easily removed. The researchers aim to aid the design of new treatment methods, which may save costs for the shipping industry as well as other sectors.
In our opinion, ballast water research is of great importance due to the possible introduction of new species, which can result in a decrease in food security. Simultaneously, prevention of problems related to biosecurity means billions of dollars can be saved; therefore, this is a key action to make sure our ecosystems remain stable. Drs. Garcia Vazquez and Zaikos’ research may help to design better treatments for ballast water to ensure that no new organisms are introduced into an established ecosystem.
Carla Espinosa. Hola! I am a Mexican student now doing my master in Bremen University, Germany. My background is oceanography and now I study Marine geosciences with focus on climate change – paleoceanography. For this reason I’m here in the NoSoAT to continue my learning about climate change and oceans.
Hello! My name is Abi, I’m from Co.Cork, Ireland. I finished an MSc in Applied Coastal and Marine Management in University College Cork (UCC) last year. I’m now working as a researcher in the Earth Observation and Governance in UCC.
A non-indigenous or non-native species is a species living outside its native distributional range, which has arrived there by human activity, either deliberate or accidental. Non-native species can have various effects on the local ecosystem. Introduced species that become established and spread beyond the place of introduction are called invasive species.