Great Ships Initiative




The Great Ships Initiative (GSI) is a regional effort devoted to ending the problem of ship-mediated invasive species in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System and globally. Since its establishment in 2006, the primary objective of GSI has been to accelerate research, development and implementation of effective ballast water management systems (BWMSs) on board ships like those that visit the Great Lakes region from abroad. Specifically, GSI provides independent status and certification testing services to developers of BWMSs at the bench-scale, i.e., laboratory scale; at a land-based facility; and on board ships. GSI performs status tests for BWMSs that are in the research and development stage. As part of US Coast Guard-certified "Independent Laboratories," GSI also carries out freshwater certification efficacy testing of market ready BWMSs. GSI partners with the University of Wisconsin-Superior, the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and AMI Consulting Engineers (Superior, Wisconsin) in accomplishing all of its testing and research activities. GSI certification testing for US Coast Guard decision-making, is carried out under the auspices of two "Independent Laboratories": NSF International (Ann Arbor, Michigan) and Control Union Certifications B.V.

Concurrent with its benchland-based and shipboard testing activities, GSI undertakes methods development (including validation of ETV protocols, ship discharge monitoring, and a collaborative project involving ship-mediated harmful microbes in the Great Lakes), as well as other relevant research activities. Most recent GSI research activities include a risk release project that is generating empirical information on the relationship between numbers of invaders released, and the actual risk of establishment.

GSI Bench-Scale Tests

GSI's bench-scale tests take place in laboratories of the Lake Superior Research Institute located at the University of Wisconsin-Superior in Superior, Wisconsin. Test activities may have several goals including:
  • Exploration of active substance degradation, dose effectiveness, and chronic residual toxicity of a proposed BWMS or component thereof;
  • Range finding for effective treatment dose against diverse freshwater taxa and water quality conditions;
  • Generation of freshwater-relevant chemical degradation curves;
  • Estimation of residual toxicity given diverse freshwater taxa and water quality conditions; and
  • Methods development and other research.

GSI Land-Based Tests

GSI land-based tests take place at the GSI Land-Based Facility located in Superior, Wisconsin. The facility is capable of drawing harbor water into large tanks simulating ship ballasting operations.  Parallel control and treatment tracks, and sophisticated sampling and analysis procedures, allow GSI to assess the impact of proposed BWMS units and processes.  GSI land-based test activities may have several goals including:

  • Pre-certification testing, i.e., operational and biological performance (including residual toxicity) status testing of BWMSs, and/or components thereof, over a range of challenge conditions;
  • Certification/type approval testing, i.e., formal assessment of performance against international and other discharge standards; and
  • Facility validations, methods development and other research.

GSI land-based tests involving formal certification/type approval for US Coast Guard decision-making are carried out under the auspices of US Coasst-Guard-approved "Independent Laboratories,"including NSF International (Ann Arbor, Michigan).

GSI Shipboard Tests

GSI shipboard tests take place on board commercial vessels in the Great-Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System and globally.  All tests take place during normal vessel operations and involve collection and analysis of continuous in-line samples during ballast intake and/or discharge operations. In general, the goals of GSI shipboard tests include:

  • Demonstration or confirmation of biological and operational BWMS performance as expected in the ship environment;
  • Certification testing, i.e., formal assessment of performance against state, federal and/or international discharge standards.;
  • Post-approval ballast discharge and BWMS performance monitoring; and
  • Methods development and other research.

GSI shipboard tests involving formal certification/type approval for US Coast Guard decision-making are carried out under the auspices of US Coast Guard-approved "Independent Laboratories," including NSF International (Ann Arbor, Michigan) and Control Union Certifications B.V.

Methods Development and Other Research Projects

Validation of the USEPA ETV Protocols

GSI has worked with the US Coast Guard Research and Development Center to conduct shipboard BWMS testing to implement and evaluate the US Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental Technology Verification Program's draft shipboard protocol for the verification of ballast water treatment technologies, including a prototype Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) skid-mounted ship sampling system.  GSI conducted trials on board the M/V Indiana Harbor, which has a partial NaOH-based BWMS installation, and reported on protocol feasibility, effectiveness, and areas for improvement. GSI also provided limited performance information on the prototype BWMS's effectiveness.  Outcomes from this project will help improve the ETV Draft Shipboard Protocol and NRL skid-mounted system, as well as the prototype BWMS. 

In 2011, GSI took part in the US Coast Guard Research and Development Center Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) Protocol Intercalibration Project. GSI's involvement in the project consisted of land-based testing of a BWMS consistent with the requirements of the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) Program's Generic Protocol for the Verification of Ballast Water Treatment Technology. Outcomes from this project helped improve the ETV Land Based Testing Protocol and showed the relationship of outcomes in varying facility settings.  The findings from this work were released by the sponsoring agencies and are available here (see Report No. SG-D-06-13).


Ship Discharge Monitoring

In 2011, with support from the Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) and the Maritime Administration, GSI developed a ballast discharge sampling system for standard, consistent and representative measurement of live organism densities in ballast discharge across Great Lakes-relevant ship types, and for a variety of purposes, including compliance monitoring, ship board type approval testing, and research. The system is intentionally a low-technology (i.e. affordable) approach to make ship discharge monitoring readily available across Great Lakes ships.  The design was peer-reviewed by ship owners, federal and state officials and international ballast discharge sampling experts, and revised prior to finalization. Specifics of the Ballast Discharge Monitoring System were published by GSI in the format of a Guidebook in 2011, copies of which are available here.

GSI personnel have spent the past two years testing the proposed ballast discharge monitoring approach on a number of ships.  Sampling events, data collection and analysis relevant to this project have continued in recent years with support from the US Maritime Administration


Ship-Mediated Harmful Microbes: Protecting the Great Lakes Ecosystem

Beginning in 2009 and with support from the Great Lakes Protection Fund, GSI personnel led a collaborative team of experts from Cornell UniversityOld Dominion University, the University of Minnesota, the US Geological Survey and the Great Lakes Commission to develop tools and methods to evaluate the status of Great Lakes microbial communities and address threats from new microbial introductions. At the outset, the collaborative team organized workshops with experts to define the microbe monitoring program, its needs, and characterize a set of methods.  The team also compared the proposed monitoring program with already established programs on microbe and pathogen monitoring in the Great Lakes and investigated pathways to imbed the proposed monitoring program into these recognized programs.  Exhaustive field surveys along with methodical research work was undertaken to generate a robust microbe monitoring plan for the Great Lakes. 

The Ship-Mediated Harmful Microbe Project team prepared a guidebook to provide fundamental guidelines for a microbe monitoring program in the Great Lakes region for researchers and regulatory authorities.  Several papers on specific aspects of the project were also published. Copies of these papers are available on request.

  • Monitoring Microbes in the Great Lakes (2011). Bain MB, Cangelosi A & Eder TA. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment; 182(1-4):431-42.
  • Distribution of an Invasive Aquatic Pathogen (Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia Virus) in the Great Lakes and Its Relationship to Shipping (2010). Bain MB, Cornwell ER, Hope KM, Eckerlin GE, Casey RN, Groocock GH, Getchell RG, Bowser PR, Winton JR, Batts WN, Cangelosi A & Casey JW. PLoS ONE; 5(4): e10156.


Risk Release Project

GSI's Risk Release Project is a multi-year project supported by the Great Lakes Protection Fund that began in 2012. The project involves design of a two-pronged mechanism for generating empirical information on the relationship between the numbers of invaders released and the actual risk of establishment (i.e., the risk-release relationship) that is Great Lakes-relevant. The effort is consistent with recommendations of the recent National Research Council (NRC) report (2011) for a national process for generating this information to estimate effectiveness of ballast discharge standards (i.e. how clean is clean), and will assure that Great Lakes realities are at the forefront of the national research development effort. The project will also assure that Great Lakes relevant information is available to inform national regulatory standard-setting over time. Finally, the project will provide a scientific basis for more consistent state standards to yield more consistent environmental protection across Great Lakes shore-lines.

Expected outcomes of the project include:

  • Credible methods for assessing risk of establishment by aquatic species introduced through ballast water discharge, and other vectors of introduction;
  • Broad buy-in by scientific community on validity of the methods;
  • A starting point for a longer term Great Lakes-based effort to use scientifically sound experimental studies and field surveys to describe risk-release relationship patterns across a range of taxa and receiving water conditions, and from a range of vectors of introduction; and
  • Credible and publishable results on the risk-release relationship for the organisms tested relevant to Great Lakes ecosystem.

The first phase of the project term has been devoted to careful planning and methods development. The second phase of the project is devoted to trialing experimental and survey methods, and based on this experience and the experimental and survey outcomes, reviewing and revising the protocols and plans. The final phase of the project is devoted to further trialing a data modeling and data management method for characterizing the risk-release relationship for aquatic invasive species from ships and other vectors to the Great Lakes using the combination of the empirical and survey approaches. The project will generate findings relative to which model best captures the risk-release relationship and characterize the strength of this relationship relative to other potential explanatory variables.


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