With the ocean and other water bodies acting as a dumpsite for our waste in recent years, it is very necessary to talk about the effects of ocean pollution.
The ocean is one of our planet’s least-explored areas, with a vast number of undiscovered creatures and mysteries. Oceans, which cover 70% of our planet’s surface, play a critical role in the health of our world and its inhabitants.
The ocean is the major water body we have and when we talk about ocean pollution, have that mind that we talk about all the water bodies on earth. Ocean pollution has not been a topic of discussion till 1972 when scientists first made a discovery of plastic debris in the ocean.
But before then, humans are known to take the ocean as a disposal site spewing plastic trash, sewage sludge, chemical, industrial and radioactive wastes into it. Thousands of containers of radioactive waste, as well as millions of tons of heavy metals and chemical toxins, were purposefully dumped into the ocean. Every year, billions of pounds of trash and other pollutants enter our oceans, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
According to a new report by an international coalition of scientists led by Boston College’s Global Observatory on Pollution on Health and the Centre Scientifique de Monaco, which is supported by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, the effects of ocean pollution are widespread and getting worse, and when toxins in the oceans make landfall, they endanger the health and well-being of more than 3 billion people.
The researchers propose prohibiting coal combustion and the production of single-use plastics, as well as managing coastal pollution and expanding marine protected areas, as solutions to ocean pollution.
So, what is ocean pollution?
Ocean pollution is the introduction of dangerous chemicals such as oil, plastic, industrial and agricultural waste, and chemical particles into the ocean.
Types of Ocean Pollution?
Several types of ocean pollution occur in many different ways causing different effects of ocean pollution. Pollution is pollution, at the end of the day. It’s destructive, and we ought to reduce it regardless of how it occurs. However, to eliminate pollution, we must first determine where it is coming from. Different types of ocean pollution in the ocean include:
- Plastic Pollution
- Light Pollution
- Noise Pollution
- Sunscreen and Other Tropicals
- Seepage of Oil
- Agricultural and Aquaculture Runoff
- Industrial Waste
- Carbon Dioxide
On top of the 150 million tonnes currently present in our seas, an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic waste enter them each year. While bigger bits of plastic can harm coral reefs or entangle fish and mammals, they inevitably degrade into much smaller fragments over time. Microplastics are possibly even more hazardous, as they are more likely to be mistaken for food by species of all sizes. They can injure an animal’s internal organs and impair its immune system after consumption, not to mention filling its stomach with plastic debris that has no nutritional value.
2. Light Pollution
There will be light wherever there is human habitation. Because many towns and cities are located along the ocean, the lights we use to brighten our streets, homes, offices, and other public spaces may also permeate beneath the waters. The presence of this artificial light during the night can disrupt fish and other marine species’ natural circadian cycles, disrupting their daily routines. Larger fish can more easily prey on smaller species, whereas reef-dwelling fish can have their reproductive cycles disrupted.
3. Noise pollution
You may not have thought sound to be a pollutant, but examine it for a moment. Many marine animals rely substantially on their hearing. Passing cargo ships, sonar, oil exploration and drilling, commercial fishing, recreational jet skis, and other sources of noise confuse and interfere with the auditory information needed for the survival of the fittest in the sea below. It has the potential to shorten their lives and even endanger the existence of entire species.
4. Sunscreen and Other Tropicals
Sunscreen, body lotion, insect repellents, essential oils, hair products, and makeup can all be found on swimmers’ bodies and end up in the water. Algae, sea urchins, fish, and mammals in the ocean, as well as coral reefs, are all badly affected by these compounds.
5. Seepage of Oil
While oil seepage from highly pressured seafloor rock occurs naturally in various regions throughout the world, humans are contributing to the problem in a variety of ways. Oil from cars on the road is washed away and ends up in the water. Oil is sometimes spilt directly into the water by boats. Of course, there are also disastrous oil spills from time to time. The oil is detrimental to marine life regardless of how it seeps.
Before sending our grey water into the waterways, our sewage and septic systems may not function effectively or remove enough nitrogen and phosphorus. According to the EPA, 10-20% of septic systems fail at some point throughout their service life. Ageing infrastructure, improper design, overloaded systems, and poor maintenance can all contribute to this. Soaps and detergents, human wastes, and solid muck all contribute to the contamination.
7. Agricultural and Aquaculture Runoff
After a downpour, nitrogen-rich fertilizers and pesticides applied by inland farmers flow off into rivers and the ocean. In addition, fish farms have been known to discharge uneaten food, antibiotics, and parasites into adjacent waters by the aquaculture sector. Although we have sustainable methods for removing chemical pollutants such as phosphate and ammonia from these settings, they are not always as widely used or as effective as we would like.
8. Industrial Waste
When it comes to ocean dumping, industrial waste is a big problem. Radioactive waste, arsenic, lead, fluoride, cyanide, and other high pollutants are among the dangerous toxins that accumulate. This waste affects the water and sea life, including the animals we eat!
Eutrophication causes places to become uninhabitable for marine life. Eutrophication is caused by a lack of oxygen dissolved in the water and an abundance of nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, in coastal waters. Over 400 dead zones have been identified along the world’s coastlines. The most serious worry is nutrient pollution, which occurs when freshwater is discharged into the ocean. Run-off from municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants, as well as industrial-scale agricultural fields, contributes to this contamination.
10. Carbon Dioxide
Carbon dioxide is produced by burning fossil fuels, and because carbon dioxide dissolves in water, our oceans are becoming more acidic as atmospheric CO2 concentrations rise (faster than they have in the last 300 million years). Corals and shellfish suffer as a result of the shift in pH of ocean water.
What Causes Ocean Pollution?
The effects of ocean pollution are caused by a variety of factors. Despite all of the data, one reality remains constant: the majority of pollution in our oceans originates on land and is produced by humans. The following are some of the causes of marine pollution:
- Pollution from Nonpoint Sources (Runoff)
- Intentional Discharge
- Oil Spills
- Ocean Mining
- Fossil Fuels
1. Pollution from Nonpoint Sources (Runoff)
Pollution from nonpoint sources arises from a range of places and sources. As a result, runoff occurs when rain or snow transports pollutants from the ground to the sea. For example, after a severe rainstorm, water rushes off the roadways and into the ocean, carrying with it any oil left on the streets from passing cars.
2. Intentional Discharge
Toxic waste, including mercury, is released into the ocean by manufacturing plants in several parts of the world. While sewage is released into the sea on purpose, it, like plastic items, contributes to ocean pollution. Every year, eight million metric tons of plastic enter our oceans, according to the Ocean Conservancy.
3. Oil Spills
Crude oil leaks occur far too frequently. Ships are a major source of pollution in the water, especially when crude oil spills occur. Crude oil stays in the ocean for years and is tough to clean up. It’s difficult to clean up when crude oil gets into the sea. It can linger in the ocean for years, posing a threat to wildlife and the ecology at large. Noise pollution (excessive, unexpected noise that disrupts the balance of life, most typically generated using transportation), excessive algae, and ballast water are also caused by these ships.
Atmospheric pollution, or things transported by the wind to the ocean, is a major issue. Plastic bags and styrofoam containers, for example, float in the water and do not degrade. You may help reduce pollution by collecting trash that you see lying around and properly disposing of it.
5. Ocean Mining
At the deepest levels of the ocean, deep-sea ocean mining pollutes and disrupts the ecosystem. Drilling for minerals like cobalt, zinc, silver, gold and copper results in toxic sulfide deposits far beneath the ocean’s surface.
6. Fossil Fuels
Although fossil fuels are burned to generate electricity, they also emit carbon dioxide, which is one of the most damaging contributors to climate change. The leftover ash emitted into the atmosphere is another disadvantage of burning fossil fuels. When ash particles are released into the atmosphere, they mix with vapour in the clouds, making precipitation more acidic.
6 Effects of Ocean Pollution
The effects of ocean pollution are mostly seen in marine life and humans, both directly and indirectly. Here are some of the effects of ocean pollution:
1. Effect of Toxic Wastes on Marine Animals
One of the effects of ocean pollution is its impact on marine animals. Pollution, such as oil spills and trash, can irreparably harm marine life. The oil leak poses a threat to marine life in several ways. The oil spilt in the ocean could contaminate marine animals’ gills and feathers, making it harder for them to move, fly, or feed their young. Cancer, reproductive system failure, behavioural abnormalities, and even death can be long-term effects on marine life.
2. Disruption of the Coral Reef Cycle
Among other effects of ocean pollution is the disruption of the coral reef cycle. The oil spill hovers on the water’s surface, blocking sunlight from reaching marine plants and interfering with photosynthesis. Long-term effects on marine life include skin irritation, eye discomfort, and lung and liver disorders.
3. Reduces the Amount of Oxygen in the Water
Reduction of the amount of oxygen in the water is also one of the effects of ocean pollution. Excess debris in the ocean consumes oxygen as it degrades over time, resulting in less oxygen in the ocean. Ocean species such as penguins, dolphins, whales, and sharks die as a result of low oxygen levels. Oxygen depletion is also caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in seawater. When a large amount of oxygen is depleted in an area of the water, it might turn into a dead zone where no marine life can survive.
4. Failure in the Reproductive System of Sea Animals
Failure in the reproductive system of sea animals is one of the effects of ocean pollution. Various harmful compounds found in industrial and agricultural wastes are deemed detrimental to marine life. Pesticide chemicals can build in the fatty tissue of animals, causing reproductive system failure.
5. The Impact on the Food Chain
The impact on the food chain is one of the effects of ocean pollution. Chemicals used in industry and agriculture wash into rivers and are transferred into the oceans from there. These compounds do not dissolve and sink to the ocean’s bottom. Small animals take these poisons, which are ultimately consumed by larger creatures, affecting the entire food chain.
6. Affects Human Health
Of the effects of ocean pollution, one of the major effects of ocean pollution is its impact on human health. Humans feed animals from the damaged food chain, which influences their health because chemicals from these polluted animals are deposited in human tissues, potentially leading to cancer, birth defects, or long-term health problems.
Having these few effects of ocean pollution might seem ocean pollution is not a big deal but looking at these effects of ocean pollution, we can see how critical these effects of ocean pollution are to human survival.
Ocean Pollution Facts
1. Oil spills aren’t the biggest problem
Only 12% of the oil in our waters comes from headline-grabbing oil disasters. Runoff from our roads, rivers, and drainpipes carries three times as much oil out to sea.
2. 5 garbage patches
Because there is so much trash at sea, enormous garbage patches have formed. There are five of them in the world, with the largest, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, covering an area twice the size of Texas and containing an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of trash.
3. Plastic poses a double danger
Sun exposure and wave activity can break down ocean waste into smaller particles, known as microplastic, which can then enter the food chain. When it degrades (which takes 400 years for most plastic), toxins are released into the environment, further polluting the water.
4. China and Indonesia are at the top of the garbage heap.
China and Indonesia produce more plastic in the ocean than any other country, accounting for one-third of all plastic pollution. Only 20 countries, including the United States, account for 80% of all plastic pollution.
5. Pollution has become a fashion
More than 700,000 synthetic microfibers are washed into our waterways with each cycle of laundry. These plasticized fibres, unlike natural fibres like cotton or wool, do not degrade. According to one study, synthetic microfibers account for up to 85% of all beach debris.
6. The majority of rubbish in the water is found at the bottom.
Ocean pollution is unpleasant, but what we can’t see may be worse: 70% of ocean waste sinks to the seafloor, making it unlikely that humans will ever be able to clean it up.
7. Nutrients can also be toxic.
Agricultural nutrients, such as nitrogen, can drive the explosive growth of algae when thrown in huge quantities into the sea. When algae decompose, it consumes oxygen in the surrounding waters, resulting in a wide dead zone that can lead to mass extinctions of fish and other marine life.
8. The number of dead zones is steadily increasing.
In 2004, scientists discovered 146 hypoxic zones in the world’s oceans (areas with such low oxygen concentrations that animal life suffocates and dies). By 2008, the figure had risen to 405. Oceanographers discovered a dead zone approaching the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico in 2017, making it the largest dead zone ever measured.
9. Mussels are disappearing from the oceans.
Increased ocean acidification is one of the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, which makes it more difficult for bivalves like mussels, clams, and oysters to build shells, reducing their chances of survival, disturbing the food chain, and affecting the multibillion-dollar shellfish sector.
10. We’re making a racket down there
Jellyfish and anemones are among the invertebrates that can be harmed by noise pollution caused by shipping and military activity. Tuna, sharks, sea turtles, and other species rely on these animals for sustenance.
Ocean Pollution Statistics
- Each year, 100 million marine animals die as a result of plastic garbage.
- Every year, 100,000 marine species die as a result of becoming entangled in plastic – and that’s just the critters we uncover!
- 1 in 3 marine animal species is found entangled in the trash, and North Pacific fish consume 12-14,000 tons of plastic every year.
- We’ve produced more plastic in the last ten years than we did in the previous century. By 2050, our discarded plastic will outnumber the contamination of fish.
- The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the world’s largest garbage dump, covering twice the area of Texas and outnumbering sea life there 6 to 1.
- Every year, 300 million tons of plastic are produced, equal to the weight of the whole human population, with half of it being single-use only.
- Our oceans are estimated to contain 5.25 trillion particles of plastic trash.269,000 tons float, with 4 billion microfibers per square kilometre residing beneath the surface.
- Approximately 70% of our trash sinks into the ocean’s environment, 15% floats, and 15% settles on our beaches.
- Every year, 8.3 million tons of plastic are dumped in the oceans. Of these, 236,000 are ingestible microplastics that are mistaken for food by marine organisms.
- Plastics take 500-1000 years to disintegrate; today, 79 per cent of it is dumped in landfills or dumped in the ocean, while only 9% are recycled and 12% are burnt.
- Over 100 nuclear blast tests were conducted in our oceans between 1950 and 1998.
- Dead zones have now been identified in 500 marine areas around the world, equivalent to the extent of the United Kingdom’s surface area (245,000 km2).
- Agriculture runoff, untreated sewage, fertilizer flow, and pesticides account for 80% of global marine contamination.
- Only ten rivers account for 90% of the world’s ocean garbage.
6 Effects of ocean pollution – FAQs
How does Ocean Pollution affect Humans?
A HAB event might be triggered by industrial waste, agricultural runoff, pesticides, or human excrement. Consumption of infected fish and shellfish exposes people to HAB toxins. Dementia, forgetfulness, various neurological impairment, and death can all be caused by these chemicals. Furthermore, one of the most harmful aspects of this pollution is that plastics take thousands of years to decompose. Fish and wildlife are becoming inebriated as a result. As a result, plastic pollutants have entered the food chain, posing a health risk to humans.
Why is Ocean Pollution a Problem?
Ocean pollution is a problem because waste from factories, agricultural runoff, pesticides, and sewage increase the frequency of destructive algal blooms known as red tides, brown tides, and green tides. The poisons produced by these blooms, including ciguatera and domoic acid, accumulate in fish and shellfish. Whales, turtles, dolphins, sharks, fish, and sea birds are all affected by ocean pollution and are regularly damaged by debris and unable to survive. Marine life gets ensnared in fishing nets and plastic rapidly. Fish that eat microplastics are later caught and eaten by humans.
- 6 Effects Of Plastic Pollution in the Ocean
- Biodiversity Hotspots in the World
- Top 20 Plastic Pollution Organizations Globally
- Top 8 Causes of Plastic Pollution
- Examples of Ex-situ and In-situ Conservation of Biodiversity
- Groundwater Contamination – Causes, Effects & Prevention
A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
Let's see how we can mitigate these problems together.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.