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Biology professor to speak before House

Rohan Anand | Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Biology professor David Lodge, director of the Notre Dame Center for Aquatic Conservation, is traveling to Washington, D.C. today to testify to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment on the impact of ship-borne invasive species in the Great Lakes.

Lodge, who has conducted research on aquatic ecosystems for the past 25 years, shifted his focus to damage caused by ships about seven years ago. He currently leads a team of undergraduates and graduate students who assist him in these endeavors.

“I was contacted because the research we do is relevant to thinking about how this problem could be managed better, and our research can inform the development of policy,” Lodge said.

Additionally, keeping in contact with other scientists and policymakers from the Environmental Protection Agency as well as the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) has helped put Lodge’s studies on the map.

Lodge’s trip to the nation’s capital puts a spotlight on one of the major projects he and his students have led concerning organism transportation. Many ships bring organisms from other parts of the world to the Great Lakes. As part of the practice, the ships take out vast volumes, or ballasts, of water to maintain the appropriate stability in the water for these organisms to travel safely.

“However, there is a major side effect,” Lodge said. “During the extraction process, millions of organisms are taken to places where they’ve never been before, and this can cause problems for many species in the Great Lakes. It’s a procedure called ‘invasion.'”

One of the best known examples of an organism that has inflicted severe damage in the Great Lakes region has been the zebra mussel, whose original habitat is located in the Black Sea. The zebra mussel causes at least $150 million worth of industrial damage in the Great Lakes region annually.

“The mussels which clogged up pipes caused the shutdown of the Detroit Edison Plant, and this toll doesn’t include damage to fishing and native biodiversity,” Lodge said.

Zebra mussels also stimulate the proliferation of clostridium botulinum, the bacterium responsible for botulism toxin, which is a natural poison produced by this bacteria that could hinder muscle movement and breathing.

With these dangerous health effects and the economic damage incurred by invasions, Lodge hopes to bring attention to the committee before he returns to Notre Dame.

“I hope that we’ll convince the committee that this is a problem that requires additional regulatory action,” he said. “And that Congress will pass a new law that will require ships to treat their ballast water.”