APEM analyses samples of seawater from Scapa Flow in the Ornkey Islands for zooplankton and phytoplankton, searching for signs of invasive non-native species.

The highly specialised task is a response to new regulations that aim to prevent the spread of invasive non-native species via ships’ ballast water, which has brought serious harm to some marine ecosystems.


In 2014 APEM teamed up with global testing experts, Intertek, to deliver a ground-breaking ballast water management plan to protect ports in the Orkney Islands from the risk of invasive non-native species.

As ships move from port to port they take on board ballast water to aid stability and manoeuvrability. Usually this ballast water is pumped from the surrounding sea into specially constructed tanks, meaning that small organisms can be sucked up and transported thousands of miles.

ship discharging ballast water

When ships arrive at their destination they often empty out their ballast water tanks, sometimes in shallow water close to shore. In some cases, organisms that have survived the journey and been flushed into the local water have multiplied and gone on to seriously harm local ecosystems and species.

Orkney was amongst the first ports to take action on non-native species. The plan was a response to concerns over the dangers of invasive non-native species and to the requirements of the Ballast Water Management Convention.

The convention was developed by the International Maritime Organisation and applies to ships and ports around the globe.

What we do

Sampling teams from Orkney Island Council collect ballast water samples from vessels scheduled to discharge ballast water to Scapa Flow during ship-to-ship transfers of oil or liquefied natural gas.

Samples are taken from multiple ballast tanks and sent to Intertek laboratories for microbiological analysis and to APEM laboratories for taxonomic analysis of zooplankton and phytoplankton.

The laboratory results help to show whether precautions taken by ships to prevent transporting non-native species are being effective, such as using on-board treatment systems or requiring that ballast tanks are flushed out at least 50 miles offshore.

The Results

  • Specialist advice and knowledge provided on non-native identification and mitigation
  • Intertek and APEM are now offering their sampling, analysis and planning services worldwide
  • Intertek’s network of staff based at ports around the globe make it possible to collect samples locally and conveniently for subsequent analysis.