Assessing ballast water treatments: Evaluation of viability methods for ambient freshwater microplankton assemblages

Euan D Reavie, Allegra A. Cangelosi, Lisa E. Allinger

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43 Scopus citations


For decades the Great Lakes have been subject to invasive species introductions through the discharge of ships' ballast water. Several treatment technologies involving physical, chemical, and biological processes have been developed to remove or inactivate organisms in this discharge. Assessing the efficacy of these technologies involves estimating the number of viable propagules in treated discharge relative to untreated controls. For organisms in the 10-50μm size range, for example, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) mandates that fewer than 10 viable organisms per milliliter may be discharged. To date, however, there is no standard method to assess viability of natural assemblages of organisms in this size group (largely phytoplankton and protozoans) in freshwater environments. We report here on a process of assemblage concentration, staining with fluorescein diacetate (FDA), and microscopic observation as a reliable and efficient method to assess densities of viable freshwater organisms in this size category in ballast discharge. A number of other methods, including digestion with enzymes, flow cytometry, and a variety of vital and mortal stains, were tested and discarded during this vetting process due to inconsistent or ambiguous results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)540-547
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Fluid Imaging Technologies for support during the flow cytometry workshop. Kathleen Kennedy helped with field collections. This work was supported by funds and in-kind efforts assembled from the private sector, federal grants, Congressional appropriations, foundations, and states, including contributions from Canadian and US Great Lakes ports, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, US Maritime Administration, US Department of Transportation, Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, University of Wisconsin Superior (Balcer M, TenEyck M), University of Minnesota Duluth (Hicks R, Branstrator D), Great Lakes carrier companies, and the Great Lakes Maritime Research Institute. This is contribution number 501 of the Center for Water and the Environment, Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth.


  • Algae
  • Ballast water
  • Fluorescein diacetate
  • Invasive species
  • Phytoplankton
  • Viability


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