Swish and Spit
Too bad the governments in charge of making rules impacting invasive species entering the Great Lakes don’t use the K.I.S.S. method for addressing the problem. I’m including all the government entities involved - federal (on both sides of the border), state, provincial, even local governments - all could have made an impact.
K.I.S.S. are the intials for the slogan, “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” It works much of the time and when I’m talking about government agencies, they often define the final word in the slogan by their actions.
Great Lakes environmental issues are often addressed by government agencies in a predictable fashion. The first phase is to deny the problem, then ignore it. Once they admit there’s an issue, it’s mostly finger pointing. None of this solves the problem. Then on to phase two.
Phase two starts with a bureaucratic report saying, “We are planning steps to address the issue. Step one is to study the problem.”
Colleges, universities and government environmental agencies live for step one. Step one is where they get grants and special appropriations to assess, define and keep their researchers on the job. The longer step one takes, the longer their careers last.
The Asian carp issue is a perfect example. The carps’ march up the mid-American river systems began in the early 1990s. I wrote my first column for Michigan Outdoor News about the Asian-invasion in 2004 and today there are still biologists and technicians on the job assessing, defining and earning paychecks.
Asian carp are attacking from the Mississippi. A few of the 187 invasive species now in the Great Lakes entered on their own by swimming upstream through the Erie Canal or up the St. Lawrence River and through the Welland Canal. The biggest invasion started post 1959 when the completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway opened the lakes to ships (and their pest ridden bilge tanks) from foreign lands.
Once this vector was identified, it could have been easily stopped if the K.I.S.S. method had been applied. The K.I.S.S. method is called jokingly, “Swish and Spit” after the process you use to kill mouth bacteria with mouthwash.
It’s a simple process and even the oldest ocean-going cargo ships are able to comply with little or no retrofitting to their vessel. A ship is moored in a fresh or brackish water port overseas. As cargo is off-loaded from the ship, harbor water is pumped into the ship’s bilge tanks to keep the ship level and stable. When the new cargo is loaded on, some, but not all the bilge water is pumped out. Then the ship sets sail with its load of cargo and foreign bilge water, bound for a Great Lakes port where the process is repeated - eventually releasing creatures from across the sea.
The simple premise (remember the simple part of the slogan) is very few species of anything can survive in both saltwater and freshwater. So once in the open ocean, flushing and draining each bilge tank with saltwater, then re-ballasting those tanks with pure saltwater is a sure way to stop invasive species from abroad. When they get to Cleveland, Duluth or where-ever in the lakes, the water pumped in and out during the unloading and loading process is only harbor water or diluted saltwater.
In 2006 both the U.S. and Canada began requiring all international ships to swish and spit - with a kicker. If there’s a regulation, there are people willing to ignore it if they think they can get away with it. So the U.S. Coast Guard inspects the incoming ships to make sure they have complied. They do it with a vengance! The Coasties board every ship, not 10 percent, or 25 percent or half. Every ship. About 99% of the tanks are in compliance, those not are usually having a mechanical problem and are sealed to ensure even if the problem is fixed, the foreign water stays on board.
Prior to swish and spit a new invasive species was being found every 28 weeks, roughly two per year. Since the program went into effect 10 years ago there have been exactly zero new invasives - and that’s with an army of “step one” workers searching for them with ever increasing technical ability.
The calamity is the first “official” proposal to start the program came in 1993. It took 13 years to institute the K.I.S.S. solution.