Research ProjectNational Ballast Information Clearinghouse

  • Ballast Water Discharge

    A ship discharging ballast water in the San Francisco Bay. San Francisco Bay is one of the most invaded bays in the United States. Photo by Monaca Noble

  • Ballast water sampling, Alaska

    Researchers Kimberly Holzer and Catherine Carney collect plankton samples from a ballast tank to determine if ballast water management is reducing invasions risk. Photo by Kimberly Holzer

  • Panamax ship entering the Panama Canal

    A Panamax ship entering the Miraflores Locks in the Panama Canal. Canal expansion is predicted to increased invasion risk. Photo by Kristen Larson

Affiliated Labs

Project Goal

The National Ballast Information Clearinghouse collects and analyzes all ballast water management reporting forms submitted to the United States Coast Guard and characterizes the patterns and trends of ballast water delivery and management in the United States as it pertains to the introduction of non-native species.


The National Ballast Information Clearinghouse (NBIC) is a joint program between SERC and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) that was mandated by the National Invasive Species Act of 1996 (NISA; P.L. 104-332). An overarching goal of NISA is to reduce the overall number of aquatic nuisance species arriving to the US on commercial ships and other vectors. To address the ballast water* vector, SERC has played an integral role in development, maintenance, and operation of the USCG National Ballast Information Clearinghouse since its inception. SERC’s role with NBIC began in 1998 with the initial design, implementation, and operation of a database and information system to develop and maintain an effective clearinghouse of national data for USCG. NBIC has been directed and operated by SERC continuously from 1998-2016.

In September 2004, mandatory ballast water management* reporting was expanded to include virtually all commercial ships capable of carrying ballast water that operate in the United States. Ballast water management reports contain vessel details, transit history (e.g., arrival, last, and next ports, arrival date), and the history of all ballast tanks to be discharged in U.S. waters (e.g., source and discharge dates, locations, and volumes), as well as details about any ballast water management (e.g., treatment, exchange, or discharge to a shore based treatment facility). NBIC receives approximately 120,000 ballast water management reports per year. A central objective of the NBIC is the synthesis and analysis of ballast water management data for USCG as required by NISA.

The data collected with ballast water management reports help us better understand the operation of the ballast water vector and, importantly, how various management strategies may reduce ballast water and shipping related introductions of non-native species. We also use these data to evaluate the patterns of ship and ballast water flux to explain the patterns of establishment of non-native species. Since 2011, the NBIC has conducted surveys of the biota in ballast water tanks as well as field surveys of the receiving waters (ports and bays) to understand the longer term effects of ballast water management on marine/estuarine invasion rates. 

Find more detailed information including ballast water data on the NBIC website

ballast tank cross-section
The cross-section of a container ship being dismantled in Busan Harbor, Korea. Notice the ballast tanks (dark grey) surrounding the cargo hold (light grey) to provide stability and support to the ship. 
Term Definition
Ballast water Ballast water is carried by ships to provide balance, stability, and trim during sailing and to keep them upright during loading and offloading operations. Ballast water is typically held in dedicated ballast tanks located around cargo holds and near the bow and stern of the ship.
Ballast water management Until ballast water treatment systems are approved and in common use, ballast water exchange will be the primary ballast water management method.  Ballast water exchange is the replacement of coastal ballast water with open ocean water usually from from greater that 200 nmi from the coast. Ships can replace their coastal ballast in two ways:
  • In empty/refill exchange, the ballasted tank is emptied by pumps until the pumps lose suction, and then refilled with ocean water. 100% of the ballast water must be emptied from the tank before refilling to complete an empty/refill exchange.
  • In the flow-through method of exchange, mid-ocean water is pumped into a full tank or hold from below while the existing coastal water is forced out an opening at the top. A volume of water three times the ballast tank capacity (300%) must be pumped out to complete a flow-through exchange. 

Research Topics