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Keeping polar regions ecologically safe

This article was written in partnership with Seaborne Communications.


Ballast Water Management in the Arctic

With a growing trend in expedition-type cruising and an increase in commercial shipping traffic navigating the Northern Sea Route and to a lesser extent the Northwest Passage, the need for the regular and accurate monitoring of a passenger vessel’s ballast water treatment system (BWTS) has never been so acute.

As Arctic sea ice declines and stretches of the Northern Sea Route become ice-free during extended summer months, the number of vessels navigating the route will increase, potentially risking the introduction of non-indigenous aquatic species to areas of ecological sensitivity if ballast water system performance is not regularly monitored.

The heightened risk was raised in May 2019 in a study published in Marine Policy, the leading journal of ocean policy studies. The authors of the study found that “an ice-free Arctic may become a new interoceanic corridor for the dispersal of marine species, but it also represents a new faster long-distance route for the transport of organisms in the ballast tanks and consequently an increased risk of contamination of regional ecosystems by non-indigenous species.”

An earlier paper, published in 2015, which investigated the risks associated with the release of non‐indigenous species through ships’ ballast water in the high‐Arctic archipelago, concluded: “The risk of the number of known invasive species will increase rapidly over the coming decades. Appropriately managing these emerging risks will require flexible, adaptive management frameworks under which options can be prioritized and targeted appropriately to routes deemed sufficiently risky.”


For both Arctic and Antarctic waters, areas increasingly featured on expedition cruise ship itineraries, ballast water rules are stringent.

For instance:

  • A ballast water management plan has to be prepared for vessels entering Arctic/Antarctic waters, taking into account problems of ballast water exchange in Arctic/Antarctic conditions. Vessel operators should keep a record of ballast water operations.
  • Ballast water should first be exchanged before arrival in Arctic/Antarctic waters or at least 50 nautical miles from the nearest land in waters at least 200 metres deep.
  • Ballast water taken on in Antarctic waters should be exchanged north of the Antarctic Polar Frontal Zone, and at least 200 nautical miles from the nearest land in water at least 200 metres deep.
  • The release of sediments during the cleaning of ballast tanks should not take place in Antarctic waters.
  • Vessels that have spent significant time in the Arctic should discharge and clean tanks before entering Antarctic waters. If this is not possible, sediment accumulation in ballast tanks should be monitored and sediment disposed of in accordance with the ship’s ballast water management plan.

The Polar Code – the regulation the International Maritime Organization (IMO) introduced to safeguard these environments – considers that the Ballast Water Convention’s D2 regulations are appropriate for the Arctic region. This stipulates the acceptable level of organisms that may be found within discharged ballast water.


In particular, D2 states that

  • fewer than ten viable organisms greater than or equal to 50µm minimum dimension per cubic metre;
  • fewer than ten viable organisms less than 50µm and greater than or equal to 10µm minimum dimension per millilitre;
  • toxicogenic Vibrio cholerae with less than one colony-forming unit (CFU) per 100 milliliters or less than 1cfu per 1 gram (wet weight) zooplankton samples;
  • Escherichia coli less than 250cfu per 100 millilitres;
  • intestinal enterococci less than 100cfu per 100 millilitres

The most effective way of mitigating against the discharge of invasive species through ineffective or ballast water systems is through relevant analysis to ensure the treatment systems are working correctly.

LuminUltra’s BQUA test kit can be used onboard vessels to provide clear indications of compliance or non-compliance with the discharge regulations regarding international standards including those of the IMO and US Coast.

NOTE: On the 13 October 2019, amendments to regulation B-3 MEPC-72 (April 2018) entered-into-force which provides guidelines on ballast water treatment system (BWTS) retrofitting schedules, scaling for the implementation of the D-2 standard to existing ships.

Now that the regulations are fully entered into force, shipowners must act and be more concerned about ballast water treatment and analysis.

For more information on LuminUltra’s Ballast Water Solution, contact Carine Magdo at

Carine Magdo

Carine comes to LuminUltra with extensive knowledge in biology, the water treatment technical/systems field, and the global marine industry - making her our resident expert on ballast water monitoring. This knowledge, along with being a member of the new ISO standard for ballast water sampling and analysis, makes her an invaluable resource to shipping companies and Port Authorities as they navigate new regulations around ballast water sampling and testing.

When she’s not on a plane travelling across countries on business or pleasure, she’s riding her horse “Azura” and fulfilling the role of VP of an Equestrian Tourism Association, in the Yvelines in France.

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