Research ProjectEvaluation of Ballast Water Treatment Technologies

Evaluation of Individual Ballast Water Management System’s Performance and Efficacy Through the Maritime Environmental Resource Center

  • Ballast water sampling in Italy

    Brenda María Soler-Figueroa, Taylor Shick (University of Maryland)  and Fontaine, Diana getting ready for shipboard testing in Italy. Photo by Kim Holzer

  • George Smith on the Cape Washington

    George Smith prepares a ballast tank for a new ballast water test on the Cape Washington. Photo by Tina Tennessen

Affiliated Labs

Project Goal

We worked with the Maritime Environmental Resource Center to further the efficient and effective transition of ballast water treatment technologies from concept and prototype to certification and routine operational use.


Graphic of research barge layout
Testing onboard treatment technologies in Japan in 2017. Photo by Kim Holzer

We worked with the Maritime Environmental Resource Center (MERC) from 2008 through 2018 to evaluate individual ballast water management system’s performance and efficacy against a range of environmental conditions. MERC is a Maryland initiative that provides facilities, expertise, information, and decision tools to address key environmental issues facing the international maritime industry. For at least ten years MERC evaluated the mechanical and biological efficacy, costs, and logistical aspects of ballast water management systems. These research services were offered aboard a mobile test platform (AKA The Barge) that was perfect for testing ballast water treatment technologies. Our scientists carried out a high level of quality control and assurance, which is critical for ensuring that only the best technologies are approved for us in The United States.  

SERC’s role was to evaluate the efficacy of ballast water treatment systems by conducting biological analysis of zooplankton and phytoplankton collected in the tanks. We worked as an independent scientific collaborator to provide technical consultation on experimental and sampling designs used to test the efficacy of alternative ballast water treatment systems and in no way endorsed any particular ballast water technology. In these experiments we compared the number of organisms in the tanks before and after the treatment system was run, and compared these results with results from untreated control tanks to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment in killing or removing organisms. For a treatment system to be effective it must be able to reduce the number of plankton in the tank to an acceptable level.

Testing and evaluation services done through MERC ensured that ballast water treatment systems were designed to prevent the transport of non-native aquatic species and meet International Maritime Organization and United States Coast Guard ballast water discharge standards, as well as other maritime environmental technologies standards. We worked with MERC to further the efficient and effective transition of treatments and technologies from concept and prototype to certification and routine operational use.

Testing operations aboard the mobile test platform as well as all shipboard testing ended in late 2018.  Below is a list of publications resulting from this research as well as publicly available reports.  


Batista WR, Fernandez FC, Lopes CC, Lopes RSC, Miller W, Ruiz G. (2017). Which ballast water management system will you put aboard? Remnant anxieties: A mini-review. Environments 4(3), 54; doi:10.3390/environments4030054 

Moser, Cameron S., Wier, Timothy P., First, Matthew R., Grant, Jonathan F., Riley, Scott C., Robbins-Wamsley, Stephanie, Tamburri, Mario N., Ruiz, Gregory M., Miller, A. Whitman and Drake, Lisa A.(2017). Quantifying the extent of niche areas in the global fleet of commercial ships: the potential for super-hot spots of biofouling. Biological Invasions, 19 (6) , 1745-1759.

Davidson, Ian C., Scianni, Christopher, Hewitt, Chad, Everett, Richard, Holm, Eric, Tamburri, Mario and Ruiz, Gregory M. (2016). Mini-review: Assessing the drivers of ship biofouling management - aligning industry and biosecurity goals. Biofouling, 32 (4) , 411-428.

Moser, Cameron S., Wier, Timothy P., Grant, Jonathan F., First, Matthew R., Tamburri, Mario N., Ruiz, Gregory M., Miller, A. Whitman and Drake, Lisa A. (2016). Quantifying the total wetted surface area of the world fleet: a first step in determining the potential extent of ships’ biofouling. Biological Invasions, 18 (1) , 265-277.

First, Matthew R., Robbins-Wamsley, Stephanie, Riley, Scott C., Moser, Cameron S., Smith, George E., Tamburri, Mario N. and Drake, Lisa A. (2013). Stratification of Living Organisms in Ballast Tanks: How Do Organism Concentrations Vary as Ballast Water Is Discharged? Environmental Science & Technology, 47 (9) , 4442-4448.

Miller, A. Whitman, Frazier, Melanie, Smith, George E., Perry, Elgin S., Ruiz, Gregory M. and Tamburri, Mario N. (2011). Enumerating Sparse Organisms in Ships' Ballast Water: Why Counting to 10 Is Not So Easy. Environmental science & technology, 45 (8) , 3539-3546.


Mario Tamburri - Director of the Maritime Environmental Resource Center, University of Maryland
Jenny Carney - Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, shipboard contact

Visit the MERC website for addition information and contacts.