While the IMO (International Maritime Organization) together with a large share of the global “maritime community” have accepted the Ballast Water Management (BWM) convention as one of the basic tenants of precaution with respect to introductions of species in new marine environments, and while at the same time there is a growing anticipation for 2017[1], when the convention will officially come into force, there still remain a series of pending challenges to be addressed. Vessel traffic in Arctic waters has been rather limited so far. This is mainly due to the extensive ice coverage and the associated risks, as opposed to other marine ecosystems where intense maritime activities have been facilitating new introductions of species for centuries. Furthermore the climatic conditions in the Arctic along with the seasonality have so far repelled invasions, but the retreating icy barriers along with the growing interest in Arctic shipping and the northward moving of species are urgently calling for filling the existing governance gaps with respect to ballast water treatment and discharge. Recent discussions for finalizing the Polar Code, which is expected to enter into force on the 1st of January 2017[2], have included the issue in their agendas, but it seems that the Code still lacks maritime requirements with regard to marine invasions. Thus ballast water exchange standards as well as binding standards for ballast water treatment systems for ships operating in Arctic waters merit further consideration (Kourantidou, Kaiser and Fernandez, 2015). Properly designed standards need to be applied in timely manner, in order to avoid future costs and risks, since invasions are historically known for their often severe economic consequences. Despite the fact that those risks are not stressed in the Polar Code, we cannot overlook the various Arctic shipping actors’/stakeholders’ responsible stances towards protecting the marine environment from new introductions (e.g. shipping companies that operate in the Arctic that have already invested in one of IMO’s approved BWM systems).

Denmark has always been a forerunner in maritime and shipping issues, in the list of the largest ten seafaring nations, having at the same time a great influence in decision making processes within the Arctic Council. Despite the fact that Danish universities and Research Institutes have so far had significant scientific advances in identifying and combating marine invasions, those issues have received scant recognition within the strategy process of the country with respect to the Arctic. The recently established BlueSDU network, which is a consortium of academics from different scientific disciplines within University of Southern Denmark, seeks to identify, among other things, pitfalls and critical views related to ballast water issues, with a special focus in the Arctic region.

[1] The enforcement of the convention is expected to take place 1 year after its ratification by adequate number of countries that represent a combined total gross tonnage of more than 35% of the world’s merchant fleet, which has almost been reached (34,56%) already by January 2016 (few more ratifications are needed)

[2] Less than a year ago (May 2015) MEPC (IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee) adopted the environmental requirements of the Polar Code through existing MARPOL (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) amendments, aside from the safety and rescue requirements of SOLAS (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) (Kourantidou, Kaiser and Fernandez, 2015)