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Research, Development, Test and Evaluation: Project Spotlight
February 2012

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Ballast Water Treatment

At any given time, the Coast Guard RDT&E program is working on more than 80 projects that support the Coast Guard’s short, medium and long range requirements across all major missions.

Metal intake pipe clogged with Zebra mussels
Zebra mussels, an aquatic nuisance species, clogging a metal intake pipe


The Coast Guard is responsible for the
U. S. effort to prevent the introduction and spread of aquatic nuisance species (ANS) through ballast water. During normal ballasting operations, ships fill their tanks with water containing living organisms to maintain its stability and safety or to maximize its propulsion efficiency. When discharged, the organisms in the ballast water are introduced into new habitats. These non-indigenous species may become established in the new environment and become aquatic nuisances.

ANS cause significant adverse environmental and economic impacts to the U.S. marine coastal and Great Lakes regions. For example, the management of zebra mussels near the Great Lakes has cost the U.S. economy millions of dollars annually. ANS can disrupt the food chain and reproductive success of native species. Once established, ANS are extremely difficult to remove. Prevention is a better and less expensive approach to protecting U.S. waters.


The Coast Guard proposed a standard for ballast water discharge, applicable to vessels operating in U. S. waters.  Additionally, the Coast Guard intends to approve ballast water treatment systems (BWTS) for routine shipboard use.  The Coast Guard partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a shore-based protocol for testing BWTS and establish shore-based test facilities. The Coast Guard is evaluating how facility differences can affect test results and developing methods to automate biological analysis.  Automated analysis coupled with strong protocols will lead to standardization of test procedures. While many challenges remain, the ultimate outcome of this effort will provide a means for vessels to routinely treat ballast water and minimize the introduction of ANS.

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Last Modified 2/26/2016