3 Types Of Pollution In The Sea

When we talk about pollution, 3 types of pollution usually comes to mind – air pollution, water pollution and land pollution. We have covered details about these three types of pollution in the article "Main Types Of Pollution", so in this article, we will touch on the 3 main types of pollution in the sea.

Sea pollution is a major problem. Many people may not realize that sea pollution affects not only the seas and oceans, but also the rest of the earth. While marine plants and animals are the most immediate victims of sea pollution, animals higher up the food chain that feed on marine life (including humans) are not spared. The toxic substances eventually get to these higher order animals as they consume poisoned sea food. In addition, toxic substances washed up shores also destroy beaches. Toxic substances that get washed upstream destroy valuable drinking water.

We will discuss more about the impact of the major 3 types of pollution in the sea – dumping of waste sewage, dumping of refuse and toxic industrial waste, and oil spills – below.

Sewage dumping

One of the major 3 types of pollution in the sea is sewage dumping.

Even today, the dumping of untreated or under-treated sewage into the seas and oceans is still taking place. According to the World Wildlife Fund, about 80% of urban sewage released into the Mediterranean Sea is untreated. This is because there are still many cities around the world that have ineffective, little or no sewage treatment. As the world population continues to grow, beyond the capacity of available sewage treatment facilities, this sewage problem will only worsen. Cities are not the only source of sewage pollution in the seas. Sewage discharged from ships and other large vessels sailing the seas also contribute.

Human sewage largely consists of excrement from toilet-flushing, wastewater from bathing, laundry, dishwashing and kitchen garbage disposal. The discharge of sewage sludge into the sea has devastating effects on the marine environment.

Firstly, this sewage serves as food for algae and bacteria, which flourish in the presence of the sewage food. These organisms then overpopulate the seas and oceans, use up most of the dissolved oxygen naturally found in water, and upset the ecological balance in the water bodies. The shortage of oxygen in the water makes it difficult for other organisms in the water to survive -- the overgrown population of bacteria and algae is basically strangling the other marine organisms. Species of fishes and other marine organisms may start disappearing from the algae-bacteria-infested waters, and in turn, other forms of life that depend on these fishes and marine creatures for food would be affected. In serious cases, dead zones may be formed in the seas or oceans, for example, the Gulf of Mexico and the Baltic Sea, where no marine life could be supported.

As one of the major 3 types of pollution in the sea, sewage dumping also introduces harmful bacteria and other microorganisms that spread water-bourne diseases (.e.g cholera, typhoid fever and salmonellosis) into our water bodies. In a report by the World Health Organisation in 2008 titled “Safer Water, Better Health”, it is estimated that 1.4 million children die in a year as a result of diarrhea from consuming unsafe water or inadequate sanitation.

Refuse and toxic waste dumping

Refuse and toxic waste dumping is another one of the major 3 types of pollution in the sea.

Unknown to many today, rubbish dumping in the ocean was an accepted practice for centuries until the 1970s. Almost any type of rubbish generated on land, including household waste, industrial chemical waste, or even radioactive waste, had a chance of making its way to the ocean. While the dumping of toxic waste into the ocean is being restricted today, the ocean is still suffering from the impact of past dumping practices.

Today, the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch is known as the world’s largest rubbish dump in the ocean. Stretching from Hawaii to Japan, the patch is found to contain exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic (i.e. near to the water surface) plastic debris, chemical sludge, and other debris (e.g. cans, plastic bags, Styrofoam, balloons, lighters, toothbrushes and fishing nets) trapped by the North Pacific Gyre currents.

Unfortunately, the plastic debris do not biodegrade, but simply disintegrate into smaller pieces. Marine animals that mistake the plastics as food ingest them, but end up suffocating on these particles or die because their digestive systems were blocked by the inert materials.

But that is not all to the impact of this one of the major 3 types of pollution in the sea. Even today, chemicals are still continuing to escape from land based activities into the oceans. Fertilizer and pesticide run-offs from commercial farms continue to pollute our seas and oceans. Toxic wastes from industries continue to be discharged into our major water bodies.

According to Seeturtles.org (a non-profit sea turtle conservation project), hundreds thousands of marine mammals, including sea turtles, and more than a million seabirds die every year from ocean pollution, ingestion or entanglement in marine debris.

Oil spills

Oil spills are probably the most well-known of the major 3 types of pollution in the sea. This is because massive oil spills are often well publicized by the media. And the impact of such massive oil spills on the seas and oceans can be seen almost immediately.

The oil that is spilt rises to the surface of the water and is spread out by the water currents and oceanic winds. And oil spills can spread for large distances. According to the Flow Rate Technical Group, federal panel of scientists, the BP oil spill in 20 April 2010, the largest accidental release of oil into marine waters to date, spewed an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. And based on CBS News about 35 days after the BP oil spill occurred, it was estimated that the total spread of the oil had reached 3,850 square miles, or 10,000 km² , in the Gulf of Mexico. About 150 miles of shoreline from the Dauphin Island to the Grand Isle were also affected.

In the areas affected by the oil spill, the lives of thousands of marine creatures are at stake. For example, according to Thomas Shirley (scientist from the Texas A&M University) in an interview with Yale Environment 360, the area immediately surrounding the BP oil spill (otherwise known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill) was home to 8,332 species, more than 1,200 fish (such as the Atlantic bluefin tuna), more than 1,500 crustaceans (including the blue crab), and 29 marine mammals (including bottlenose dolphins).

Incidents of marine animals drowning when they unknowingly enter the oil pool are a common sight. The thick oil layer sticks to the bodies of the marine creatures, hindering their ability to move effectively and escape from the oily “death pool”. Oil that enters the creatures’ air passage ways suffocates them. The toxicity of the oil also kills the animals that ingest it. Based on Wikipedia which drew information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as of 2 November 2010, 6,814 marine animals were found dead as a result of the BP oil spill. The numbers included 6,104 birds, 609 sea turtles, 100 dolphins and other mammals, and 1 other reptile.

But the story does not end there. Thomas Shirley explained to Yale Environment 360 how most of the damage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill “remains out of sight below the surface, as creatures succumb to the toxic effects of the rapidly spreading tide of oil.”

Also, the oil that floats on the surface of the water also blocks out sunlight and prevents oxygen from dissolving in the water. Marine plants in the water, in the absence of sunlight, are unable to photosynthesize and produce oxygen. Marine life in the water beneath the oil pool loses access to oxygen and suffocates to death. The decay of dead matter in the water further consumes whatever oxygen that is left. Dead zones in the water body starts to appear.

Unfortunately, the oil spills that we hear almost over the news are not the only source of oil pollution. Oil finds its way into the sea through many other ways such as improper disposal of automobile or vessel oil, waste discharge of heavy industries and offshore facilities. Even the slightest oil pollution can kill marine animals and also spread diseases. According to Waterencyclopedia.com, it is estimated that about 706 million gallons of waste oil enter the ocean each year.

What you can do about the major 3 types of pollution in the sea

After reading about the devastating consequences of the major 3 types of pollution in the sea, you may ask what you can do about it.

After all, the root of the problem with the 3 types of pollution in the ocean often lie in the big organizations like petroleum or vessel companies, the heavy industries, and even the governments who regulate the disposal of sewage, garbage and industrial waste from their lands.

It may be true that you alone might not be able to make an immediate impact on the issue (unless you happen to be sufficiently influential). But there is strength in numbers. As more and more people become aware of the problems and want things to be put right, there will be increasing pressures on governments to regulate the contributors to the 3 types of pollution in the sea. In turn, these contributors to the 3 types of pollution in the sea would have to start having greater accountability to the world and its eco-systems.

That is why it is important to help spread the message on the major 3 types of pollution today. Make use of the Tweeter and Facebook icons below to share this article with your friends.

Remember, the destructive consequences of the major 3 types of pollution in the sea is not only on wildlife. Eventually, the toxic substances will reach us humans, as we are one of the highest order animals in the food chain. If we do nothing to address the major 3 types of pollution in the sea today, we will be the ones who will have to bear the consequences tomorrow.

Read more about the causes of water pollution:

Read more about the ways to stop water pollution:

  • ways to stop pollution (in the sea)
  • how to stop water pollution
  • how to stop pollution in water
  • water pollution solutions for the household
  • solutions to water pollution globally

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