Shifting Baselines

On any given day, the world’s fleet of ships are carrying billions of tons of ballast water with up to 7,000 different invasive species as stowaways. About one in every ten of these is likely to be a problem if it’s introduced into a new ecosystem, which is why the United Nations has listed “invasive species” discharged from ballast water as one of the top four threats to marine ecosystems globally. In the Mediterranean Sea, for instance, a new species has been recorded every four weeks. More than 400 introduced species now make their home in a Sea that has (or had) one of the highest percentages of endemic species in the world.

But this sad story now has a proposed technological, fairytale ending. According to the BBC, a team of researchers has showed that installing continuous microwave systems onboard cargo ships could heat up and kill all marine life within the water tanks. Read more about that idea here.

On the other hand, we could simply require that boats dump their ballast water in the open ocean rather than in sensitive bays and estuaries (a solution that has been proposed for years). But that’s just not nearly as fun as nuking ’em, is it?



  1. #1 kevindwhite
    May 12, 2008

    Doesn’t look the article is available yet so it’s hard to say if the idea is not just technically feasible but also economically viable.

  2. #2 kevindwhite
    May 12, 2008
  3. #3 canucklehead
    May 20, 2008

    Possibly a health and safety issue here in Tampa Bay. While sampling, FWC Fisheries apparently found 2 box jellyfish about 1/3 the way into Tampa bay. A bay that many people get wet in. A bay that has suitable conditions for jellyfish to thrive.

  4. #4 Dan L
    April 15, 2009

    Let’s see, 20,000 tons of ballast water, with a power input
    from microwaves at 2.5 kilowatts/liter/minute, and you have
    three quarters of a gigawatt hour of electrical energy used.

    No, it’s not going to happen THIS way.

  5. #5 peanutbutterceleryandjelly
    April 11, 2012

    The first time I read about the microwave method, I thought, “What?!? Are you kidding me?” It just sounded so… -_-‘

    It’s not that easy to just deballast the ship early though, since ballast is needed for ship stability. Actually, it’s stated here in an old Bluejackets’ Manual that the naval ship is to be “deballast[ed] as far in advance as possible and for as long as long as regulations permit”. So they would’ve dumped it already if it’s safe, right?

    There is a safer and “greener” (yay!) solution though: a “ballast-free” ship developed by the University of Michigan. It’s more economical as well, so I believe shipbuilders would be willing to adapt this concept. Here’s the link to this “ballast-free” ship design:

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