by Audubon Great Lakes
In April, Senators rejected a Coast Guard reauthorization bill that contained the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act (VIDA), a measure that would have rolled back important protections in the Clean Water Act that regulate ballast water discharge, a prominent source of aquatic invasive species, like zebra and quagga mussels, which have been a scourge on the health of the delicate ecosystem that is the Great Lakes and have been particularly devastating to birds.
By weakening regulations on ballast water discharge, VIDA would have been a devastating blow to the migratory birds that depend on the Great Lakes—such as Common Loons and Red-breasted Mergansers. The invasive mussels that hitch a ride in the ballast water discharge of transcontinental ships, create the perfect environment for certain toxins to flourish, which then travels up the food chain and makes its way to birds and kills them. Avian botulism has been responsible for over 100,000 bird deaths on the Great Lakes since 1999!
As if that wasn’t enough, the extent of the damage caused by VIDA would have gone beyond birds. Aquatic invasive species also hurt people in very serious ways – by threatening our livelihoods and health. Invasive species introduced to the Great Lakes via ballast water damage infrastructure like facilities for public water supplies, energy generation, and private industry, costing taxpayers and industry around nine billion dollars every year. They have also decimated native fish populations, devastating commercial and recreational fisheries and negatively impacting the livelihoods that depend on this industry. They have even been the cause of poisonous algae slicks that often shut down public water supplies because the water is not safe to drink.
However, this measure didn’t make it very far, thanks to you. Just before the Senate floor vote, Audubon called upon the vast network of people who care about birds and the places they need to take action and you turned out! More than 6,000 people responded to our call and let their Senate leaders know they didn’t want ships to dump dirty water in our coastal and inland waters. VIDA failed to advance with a 56-42 vote. Together, we took decisive action to protect our Great Lakes, an iconic and globally significant ecosystem, and the birds that depend on it—thank you!