2009 marks 50 years since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway. This massive construction project granted international vessels access to the Great Lakes It also ushered in a host of environmental problems and precipitated one of the worst ecological crises to hit the region: a proliferation of aquatic invasive species.
The environmental toll wrought by the opening of the Seaway is out of step with the claims to environmental friendliness the maritime industry offers. In light of the true environmental legacy of international shipping on the Great Lakes, it is time to rethink the Seaway and bring ‘sustainability’ beyond mere platitude and make it a reality.
Despite some examples of good environmental performance, the shipping industry is paddling against the tide of public support for cleaning up and restoring the health of the Great Lakes. Citizens and governments recognize that economic revitalization of a struggling region depends on the health of our freshwater. Our region has just adopted a water resources management Compact and Agreement that is a global model for sustainable water use, and is now investing hundreds of millions of dollars in restoration of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Meanwhile, in the face of this progress, the shipping industry risks undermining these efforts by bringing in new invaders, dredging in fragile rivers to make deeper channels, and dumping cargo residues overboard. The industry has a critical choice to make: it can continue its outdated and unsustainable practices that make the problems worse, or it can turn the corner, modernize itself, and work alongside those trying to restore the lakes and revitalize the economy.
Achieving the principles outlined in this document will take a diversity of approaches, from voluntary actions, regulatory reform and legal action to grassroots advocacy. Industry-led initiatives can play a significant role; for example, the Green Marine Initiative is an opportunity for the industry to meet meaningful environmental benchmarks, above and beyond government requirements.
Here, seven principles chart a truly sustainable future for the St. Lawrence Seaway and the shipping industry as a whole. These principles outline the basis of how commercial navigation can benefit the people and economies of the Great Lakes region, ensure its own viability, and become a true steward for this spectacular, yet fragile, natural wonder. The Seaway and shipping industry is at the headwaters of challenging and exciting future. The decisions they make today will set a legacy that lasts well beyond the next 50 years.