The ocean is a gigantic water body that is formed from the planet’s hydrosphere. These are so huge and deep that they extend several thousands of kilometers across different continents throughout the world, thereby covering
72 percent of the earth’s surface, provides more than 97 percent water supply for the world and contributes to greater than 70 percent of the oxygen we breathe. Hence, oceans are critical to the sustenance of life, forms a part of the carbon cycle, influences carbon and weather patterns. They are a huge source of water-based flora and fauna contributing to the survival of various species of plants and animals that live in the ocean. We need to be grateful to the oceans for providing such abundant resources.
The current state of oceans around the world
For a few generations due to our ignorance about caring for mother nature and the environment, we as humans collectively destroyed oceans by dumping trash, sewage sludge, chemical, industrial and radioactive wastes in varied forms. The pollutants from these sources sink to the ocean floor or float on the water. These are consumed by marine organisms thereby interfering with the normal growth of aquatic flora and fauna, as well as enter into the global food-chain.
Sources of ocean pollution
Today the oceans are affected by several pollutants that seep into them as a result of human activities. These pollutants enter the ocean primarily through air and land. These are in the form of toxins, light, noise, industrial waste, oil seepage, ship pollution, deep-sea mining, residential waste, garbage, animal farm waste, agricultural waste, sewage, light, and the dangerous plastic pollution.
Scientists estimate around 100,000,000 metric tons of plastic trash are in the world’s oceans, which doesn’t degrade very easily causing numerous problems to marine life and humans.
Due to the marine transportation noises from the ships, sonar devices, submarines, deep underwater vehicles, oil rigs disrupt the natural noise of the marine environment, as marine mammals like seals, sharks, whales, dolphins & depend on echo for communication with each other. This noise affects and interrupts their natural communication, hearing loss, stress disrupts the migration, communication, hunting, reproduction patterns for many mammals, stranding, and death.
A recent incident is the stranding and death of more than 300 whales at Farewell Spit in the waters of New Zealand South Island.
Toxic from various industries in the form of acids, alkaline waste, scrap metals, fish processing waste, sludge, coal ash, industrial wastewater, and other substances are dumped in huge quantities in oceans. This causes bioaccumulation, thereby toxic chemicals get ingested by marine plants and animals. Due to ingestion these stay in their bodies, slowly hinder the normal function of various organs and lead to their death.
For instance, excess nitrogen and phosphorus in oceans cause excessive growth of algae, these form algal blooms through the spread of brown or red tides that kill the marine species, due to the death of algal blooms these create dead zones where marine species cannot survive due to the lack of oxygen.
This pollution occurs in the form of plastics, paper, wood, metal, and other manufactured materials that seep into the ocean through various means. Since plastic is non-degradable it gets broken down into minute particles called microplastics that are absorbed by marine species, that enter into the human food chain when they are consumed by humans. These lead to the death of mammals, in the long run, causing numerous health hazards in humans.
There was a whale that was starved to death due to the presence of 88 pounds of plastic in its stomach. Here’s the link.
An incident of this is the “Pacific Garbage Patch” in the ocean between California and Hawaii in an area of about 1.6 million square kilometers approximately.
Oil seepage is the leakage and crude and gas that migrates to the seafloor and ocean depths. This seepage occurs through the accidents that occur in the oil rigs and to the oil tanker carrying ships. Oil seepage is toxic and impacts the marine environment in various ways. This destroys the insulating ability of fur-bearing mammals, water repellency of bird feathers, thus exposing them to the environment. Without this repellency ability and insulation from the cold water birds, mammals die from hypothermia. Dolphins, whales, when they inhale can affect the lungs, immune system, reproduction. All other marine species including fish die by being trapped in the thick oil slick that stays in the water for so many days.
A recent incident is the “Trans Mountain” oil pipeline spill that occurred in Abbotsford, Canada. Another major incident is the diesel oil spill that occurred in Krasnoyarsk Krai Russia where Norilsk-Taimyr Energy’s thermal power plant failed to flood local rivers with approximately 17,500 tonnes of diesel oil.
To produce dairy products and meat, the animals are fed with excess amounts of antibiotics and hormones, these are excreted and seep into the oceans. Nutrients in animal waste cause algal blooms that consume oxygen in the water and create dead zones which makes the survival of marine species difficult. The clean ocean water is replaced with the polluted farm runoff from the animal farms. This also contributes to the rising of global ocean temperatures and an increase in the acidic levels of the oceans around the globe.
Fish waste and left-over food spill out the aquatic tanks that create nutrient pollution, eutrophication, and hypoxia which can stress or kill aquatic creatures. The antibiotics or pesticides used on aquatic farm fish can affect marine life and human health.
For instance, the runoff from the chicken and hog waste from factory farms in Maryland and North Carolina had contributed to outbreaks of Pfiesteria piscicida that killed millions of fish, caused skin irritation, short-term memory loss and health issues around local people.
Runoff occurs when the various pollutants on the coastal farms, along with water that doesn’t get absorbed by the crop soil, pick up various pollutants from the land and get mixed with ocean water. These pollutants are the chemical pesticides, leftover nutrients that seep into the oceans that cause algae blooms which create toxic dead zones that make the survival of marine organisms difficult. Hence runoff is an economic and environmental threat.
Referring to this case of the dead zone that appears in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana and Texas, the cause for this dead zone is the agricultural runoff from the Mississippi river, as claimed by the scientists.
Is the solid and liquid waste carried out by the sewer pipes or the systems into the oceans? Liquid waste would be the domestic, industrial, agricultural, and urban wastewater that is contaminated with numerous pollutants. Solid waste is in the form of sludge. These contaminate oceans and influence marine organisms in numerous ways that lead to various problems in marine species, leading to their death and health conditions due to the consumption of seafood.
This leads to bioaccumulation, an increase in the concentration of chemicals in the marine species, and biomagnification that is an increase in the pollutants in the food chain that includes humans and marine species.
Effects of ocean pollution on marine and human life
The oceans are threatened by man-made pollution thus affecting marine and human life in numerous ways. Due to the discarded fishing nets, plastics get these marine beings entangled, restrict their movement, injure and starve them.
Pollution in various forms kills the fish, birds, sea-turtles, marine-mammals, destroys the habitats, affects the animals mating rituals that destroy and eliminate the species. Leftover marine debris does interfere with navigation safety and poses a threat to human health.
Heavy metal and other pollutants that accumulate in the oceans get into the seafood thereby causing harm to humans. These pollutants that enter into the food chain, cause toxins to build up in the tissues of the people who eat the various forms of seafood, leading to numerous health conditions thereby threatening human life.
The solution lies with us
We, humans, are a part of the problem and the solution towards the oceans. Hence we need to accept our responsibility, make a conscious shift in our behavior through continuous education and other actions that prevent further pollution wherever we live by choosing an eco-friendly, plant-based and animal cruelty-free lifestyle as long as we exist.
Credits: Lakshman Molleti (Concept), Harish Edamadaka (Content Writer), Design Support (eco conz)