Cal Maritime’s Testing of Ballast Water Management Systems Develops Future Mariners to Address Environmental Issues

Water Management



​California State University Maritime Academy’s Golden Bear Research Center (GBRC) is a globally recognized research, development, testing and evaluation facility focused on type-approval testing of ballast water management systems (BWMS) and other developing technologies in the maritime industry. Although GBRC focuses on testing BWMS to federal and international standards, the center is involved in educating the public, maritime industry governmental agencies, the scientific community and other stakeholders on the importance of these technologies and promoting the science of BWMS testing. 

Cal Maritime and GBRC are located in Vallejo, California, on the Carquinez Strait, which separates the San Francisco Bay estuary complex and the Sacramento/San Joaquin river delta. Aquatic invasive species (AIS) have deeply affected the San Francisco Estuary complex, frequently referred to as the most heavily invaded estuary in the world. Many of the AIS are transported around the world in ships’ ballast water. As cargo is being loaded, ships typically discharge ballast water into the port to maintain stability, trim and structural integrity. Aquatic life from distant ports is often discharged with the water, potentially introducing AIS into the local ecosystem. 

​​​These AIS can be microscopic or larger organisms that attach themselves to the ships’ hulls below the waterline or can enter through the uptake of water into the ships’ ballast tanks. These organisms are then transported to foreign ports, where they can reproduce, proliferate and displace native species. AIS can harm ecological, economic and human health and may ultimately cost billions of dollars a year to manage. Beginning in the early 2000s, state, federal and international governments established regulations for the commercial shipping industry to mitigate the transmission of potentially invasive species. 

​During the past few years, the adoption of Ballast Water Discharge Standards by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) placed limits on the number of organisms that can be in discharged ballast water. Technologies to kill or reduce organisms in biofouling and ballast water range from specialized paints that deter the settlement of fouling organisms on the outside of ships’ hulls to BWMSes that treat ballast water, primarily through the use of ultraviolet (UV) light or chemical treatment. 

Using Cal Maritime’s United States training ship Golden Bear as a platform, GBRC has been approved by the Coast Guard and IMO to act as a third-party independent laboratory to test BWMSes and other technologies intended to stop aquatic invasive species from spreading across the world’s oceans and ports. 

The Golden Bear Research Center consists of a multidisciplinary team of scientists, engineers and Cal Maritime cadets who evaluate the performance of these novel environmental technologies and ensure they are working effectively through a rigorous testing program. To date, GBRC has worked with several domestic and international companies to aid in the research, development, testing and regulatory type-approval of these technologies before they go to market. With Cal Maritime’s recent addition of an oceanography degree program, GBRC looks forward to continuing to develop the next generation of mariners and oceanographers to tackle emerging environmental issues.​​