Ocean Pollution Causes

Why be concerned with ocean pollution causes?

Here’s why.

Imagine yourself walking on the beach. The sand is warm, the weather is clear, like never before. Taking off your sandals, you start walking towards the water. But suddenly, you noticed a sign that says “Water polluted, no swimming allowed”. What a disappointment.

Such a scenario does not only take place in our imagination. It is becoming a more regular reality today.

Ocean water pollution is one of the vital environmental issues the planet is facing at present. In turn, to get a good idea of how ocean pollution is destroying marine life and how it is affecting us, we must first understand the ocean pollution causes.

There is no single source of ocean pollution. In fact, ocean pollution is a result of several industries and several different practices. Land-based activities are responsible for more than 80% of ocean pollution. From plastic bags to pesticides - the majority of the waste we create on land ultimately reaches the oceans, either through purposeful dumping or from run-off through drains and rivers.

Here are some major ocean pollution causes.

Oil Industry

Our demand for fossil fuels is adversely affecting the oceans. As most of the oil reserves are located under the sea floor, prospecting, drilling, and transporting oil from the oil wells makes it the worst of all ocean pollution causes. The oil industry is not only to blame for occasional large scale oil spills, which seriously damage sensitive marine areas and disturb marine species, but also for the smaller leaks that occur on a regular basis.

Remember the 2010 BP Oil spill, one of the greatest environmental catastrophe US has faced ever? For 86 days, oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico from BP's damaged well, dumping around 200 million gallons of crude into our sensitive ecosystems.

In turn, when gasoline is burned, may it be by vehicles or power stations, toxic gases are released into the air. These gases dissolve in rain, sometimes forming acid rain, and ultimately fall back to the ocean.

Garbage Dumping

Garbage is one of the significant ocean pollution causes.

Back in 1975, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that about 14 billion pounds of garbage was being dumped into the ocean every year. That's more than 1.5 million pounds per hour, with an estimated one third possibly contributed by the United States.

Plastic bags, balloons, glass bottles, shoes, packaging material, etc, through Man’s irresponsible disposage of waste, have found their way to the ocean. The dumping of garbage into the ocean has given birth to oceanic dumps, like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, known today as the world’s largest dump.

Plastic lasts almost “forever”; plastic debris in the ocean continues to persist even after decades of floating about. Plastic garbage is especially dangerous to marine life because it breaks up into tiny pieces, is often mistaken for food, and hence is ingested. Plastic materials, mainly plastic bags, have been found chocking the breathing passages and stomachs of many marine species.

Dumping of garbage into the ocean can diminish the oxygen dissolved in water. Consequently, the health of much marine life is seriously affected.

Even when trash is buried in a landfill, toxic chemicals from the landfill may leech into ground water, which may eventually flow into the ocean.

Sewage Disposal

Although it's hard to imagine, in several parts of the world, sewage flows untreated, or under-treated, into the ocean on a regular basis. This sewage also includes grey water which includes black water from toilets, water from food preparation and laundry. At times, sludge from sewage treatment is also dumped into the ocean.

Factories and Industry Toxic

Toxic liquids or the wastes from factories and industries are sometimes dumped directly into the ocean or other water sources that flow into the ocean. These toxic chemicals are a major source of ocean pollution causes.

Almost all marine organisms, from the planktons to the whales, are affected by the man-made chemicals. These chemicals can accumulate in the fatty tissue of the animals, leading to organ failures as well as failure in the reproductive system of the mammals and birds.

In few cases, the liquids dumped are warm and can raise the ocean water temperature, through a process known as thermal pollution. Some ecosystems that cannot survive at higher temperatures may be wiped out completely.

Acid Rain

When toxic chemicals released into the atmosphere from industries, vehicles and power stations etc dissolve in rain, acid rain is formed. Acid rain then falls directly or indirectly onto rivers, seas and oceans.


Agriculture is another major source of ocean pollution causes.

Farmlands are usually far inland but, when it rains, toxic pesticides are washed into the rivers and streams and ultimately flow into the ocean.

When fertilizers flow into the ocean, the extra nutrients cause eutrophication - too much plankton grows because of the abundance of nutrients. Sunlight cannot penetrate the water at a certain depth, hindering photosynthesis by the underwater plant. The decay of dying plankton also uses up oxygen in the water. The amount of dissolved oxygen in the water becomes depleted, and other marine life suffocates. Eutrophication has created vast dead zones in several parts of the world, including the Gulf of Mexico and the Baltic Sea.

There are many ocean pollution causes, and each cause brings with it adverse effects on life. And the life forms affected by ocean pollution are not only the marine animals, but humans as well. Read more about the effects of water pollution and facts about water pollution.

It is largely Man’s activities that have resulted in the widespread ocean pollution. It is now Man’s responsibility to clean up our act and take better care of the oceans and the marine life thriving in the water bodies, least all the oceans fail one day, together with the means of livelihood for many people, as well as the source of food for even more.

Read about ways to stop pollution in the sea and saving endangered marine animals.

Return from this page on Ocean Pollution Causes to page on Main Types of Pollution

Return from this page on Ocean Pollution Causes to Eco Green Living and All Recycling Facts Homepage

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