This article was initially published in the September/October 2019 issue of Marine Professional magazine.
At a very early age, Marcie Merksamer knew she wanted to become a marine biologist. Today, she is a leading expert in her chosen speciality and co-chair of the IMarEST’s Ballast Water Management Special Interest Group.
How did you become, to use your own words, a 'ballast water geek'?
The moment I learned about the problem of global aquatic invasive species transfer through ballast water, I knew instantly that I wanted to be involved in this issue. I was still in college, and ballast water became my ‘pet project’.
When I graduated, there were very few jobs specifically related to ballast water, and the international regulations still weren’t fully developed. I took a leap of faith and started an environmental services company, striving to become an expert in ballast water by immersing myself in every facet of it that I could.
“I’ll talk about ballast water with anyone, anytime, anywhere”
My first ballast water contract was as a treatment system service technician, and I’ve done a wide variety of work since then. Now, 19 years after first learning about the topic, I’m still just as enthralled by ballast water: the engineering and shipboard work, the biology and chemistry involved, and the challenge of developing global regulations that can be implemented practically. I’m never bored. My family calls me a ‘ballast water geek’ because I’ll talk about ballast water with anyone, anytime, anywhere.
CV: MARCIE MERKSAMER
Marcie Merksamer is a Fellow of the IMarEST, co-chair of the Ballast Water Management Special Interest Group, secretary general of the Ballast Water Equipment Manufacturers’ Association and vice president of EnviroManagement Inc – an environmental services consultancy she co-founded in 2002. Knowledgeable in microbiology, limnology, marine biology and complex regulatory processes, she has worked as a laboratory analyst, research assistant, field biologist and biological and environmental compliance consultant. She prepares and maintains permits for compliance with IMO, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the US Army Corps and various regulatory agencies. She has a degree in biological sciences with a specialism in environmental science from California Polytechnic State University.
What does your current role involve?
Within my company, I manage the environmental consulting services that we provide to ballast water treatment system manufacturers and ship owners. We guide our clients through the various global regulatory requirements for system approval and vessel compliance, and we offer shipboard compliance testing services globally.
Last year, I assisted with the formation of the Ballast Water Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (BWEMA), the first non-profit association for the global ballast water treatment industry. As BWEMA’s secretary general, my work also involves carrying out the association’s mission to be an international voice for the ballast water treatment industry and a technical resource for stakeholders.
When and why did you first join the IMarEST?
Thomas Mackey, who formed the Ballast Water Management Special Interest Group (BWM SIG) – then called the Ballast Water Experts Group – and his co-chair, David Wright, invited me to a BWM SIG meeting in 2012. I had previously attended ballast water conferences organised by the IMarEST and always enjoyed the technical content, so I decided to continue attending SIG meetings. I really enjoyed the community that I met through the MarEST and the work being done, so I became a member in 2014.
What is your relationship with the IMarEST right now?
I’m pleased to co-chair the BWM SIG with my colleague Kevin Reynolds. Working with the SIG gives me the opportunity to represent the IMarEST at IMO by contributing technical content on various topics through paper submissions and participation in IMO meetings. I also contribute as a peer reviewer of articles published in the Journal of Marine Engineering & Technology.
How important is the IMarEST in helping to advance solutions to marine issues?
The body of knowledge that the IMarEST contributes to global marine issues has always impressed me. The significant expertise, creative thinking and problem-solving skills that IMarEST members have was reinforced for me during the first Annual Technical Conference on 15 March 2019. Learning about the work that the IMarEST and its various SIGs are doing was very encouraging and showcased the importance of the IMarEST’s varied efforts internationally.
"Now, 19 years after first learning about ballast water, I’m still just as enthralled"
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
My favourite work, and the most challenging, is facilitating productive working relationships between industrial, scientific and regulatory stakeholders. Each group has equally relevant and important tasks to accomplish, yet they all approach topics from different perspectives and with different goals. Working to help the industry understand the reasons behind the environmental regulations, finding ways to include these stakeholders as we incorporate science into the regulatory process and then supporting the development of regulations that can be implemented practically by the industry, is the holy grail of my work. It’s a challenge that’s not always 100% attainable, but it is absolutely worth reaching for.
Are you happy with the way the industry has responded to the dangers of ballast water mismanagement in recent years?
The number of years it has taken for there to be significant uptake and implementation of ballast water management has been disappointing. However, I don’t think the delays can be attributed to a single stakeholder. Ballast water management is a highly complex issue, with engineering, operational, scientific and global regulatory challenges all complicating matters. Things aren’t perfect, but a lot has been accomplished and learned by all stakeholders over the years. We should recognise this progress. I prefer to evaluate where we are today and look ahead to how all stakeholders can work together towards continued improvement.
Any advice for young people considering a career in marine science or biology?
Pursue an educational path that will offer exposure to the broad spectrum of opportunities that exist. Once an area of strong interest is identified, then an area of specialisation can be developed, paving the way to a rewarding career.