Facts About Ocean Pollution

Ocean pollution is a growing environmental issue that the world is facing today. The widespread pollution of our water bodies does not only endanger the populations of our marine plant and animal species, the well-being of mankind is also at stake (read more about the effects of pollution in the seas and oceans).

A large part of this pollution is a result of human activities, for example, oil spills by sea vessels and oil rigs, garbage and other toxic waste dumping in the oceans, discharge of untreated sewage and industrial waste into the seas, as well as pesticide and fertilizer run-offs from farms (read more about the causes of ocean and sea pollution).

Here are some glaring ocean pollution facts that will give you have a sense of how serious the problem is.

But mind you, this sense is probably just the tip of the ice-berg.

  • Many of you might not be aware, but our oceans are becoming our world’s largest rubbish dumps. For centuries up until the 1970s, rubbish dumping in the ocean had always been an accepted practice. While the dumping of toxic waste into the ocean is being restricted (though not completely eliminated) today, the ocean is still suffering from the impact of past dumping practices. Because of the convergence of currents and winds in oceanic gyres, rubbish dispersed in oceans tends to collect in these gyres. This tendency has led to the formation of garbage patches in some of the world’s five main oceanic gyres, two of which are the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as well as the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean.

  • According to GreenPeace, of the plastic produced in this world every year (about 100 million tones), about 10% of them end up in the seas and oceans. So it is probably not surprising that the major garbage patches in the oceans are filled with pieces of plastic floating on the water surfaces and suspended in the water. According to Wikipedia, in water samples from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the overall plastic concentration could reach as high as 7 times the concentration of zooplankton in the sample.

  • And these plastic debris (made of petroleum) do not biodegrade; they simply break down into smaller pieces that are often mistaken by marine animals as food. Within the bodies of the animals, the plastic debris block airways or digestion channels, causing the animals to suffocate or starve to death. In fact, quoting from GreenPeace, more than one million marine birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die from ingestion or entanglement in plastic debris in the sea every year. Ocean pollution is definitely killing our marine life.

  • Reported by ScienceDaily, calculations made by Oregon State University Scientist, Angelicque White, showed that the energy required to remove the plastic from the ocean could be as high as 250 times the mass of the plastic to be removed. In the process of cleaning up the ocean pollution, large numbers of the minute marine creatures like phytoplankton and zooplankton that make up the bottom (but possibly the most important role) of marine food chains would inevitably be removed as well. As such, White raised doubts as to whether attempts to clear up the plastic debris from our oceans would be counter-effective. This finding definitely complicates the attempt to clean up the mess man has created in the oceans. It seems like the root solution, moving forward, would really be to reduce our use and disposal of plastic.

  • Garbage is just part of the problem when it comes to ocean pollution. Sewage dumping is another issue. According to the World Wildlife Fund, about 80% of the sewage discharged into the Mediterranean Sea is untreated. And this situation is not just limited to the Mediterranean sea. Sewage could be discharged into the sea from inland sanitation facilities, as well as vessels sailing in the seas. This sewage often brings about ocean eutrophication which is often a cause of dead zones in the sea. In addition, the microorganisms found in the sewage contaminated waters can also cause diseases in humans.

  • Oil spills is a major cause of pollution in the oceans. Most recently, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, also known as the BP oil spill or the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, spewed 4.9 million barrels (each barrel holds 42 gallons or 159 litres) of oll into the Gulf of Mexico, making it the biggest offshore oil spill accident in the history of the petroleum industry to date. It is probably quite difficult to visualize how much 4.9 million barrels, after all, it is not very often that we come into contact with such large numbers. So to put things into perspective, the author of energy blog, The Seventh Fold, made it easier for us. He pointed out that the amount of oil spilt into the oceans (i.e. 205.8 million gallons) is enough to fill up 17.1 million average cars (that holds 12 gallons each). According to Worldometers, that’s slightly less than 1/3 the number of cars produced in the WORLD in 2007 (i.e. 52.9 million). That’s a lot ocean pollution! Read about the impact of oil spill on life in the ocean and on land.

  • Unfortunately, the BP oil spill is not the only oil spill that the oceans have to cope with. According to the Waterencyclopedia, the average number of large oil spills (i.e. over 206,500 gallons of oil spewed into the ocean) taking place every year from 1990 to 2000 is about 6.9. But only one or two gets reported in the mainstream media from time to time. And that is the impact of man’s reliance on crude oil as a source of energy – the pollution is not only in the form of greenhouse gasses and other air pollutants when we burn these fossil fuels; ocean pollution is also incurred. That is why we need to start looking toward developing the greener and renewable sources of energy like solar energy and wind energy.

  • Besides the forms of ocean pollution described over, oceans and seas are often used as testing grounds for weapons like nuclear bombs. Imagine the toxic waste and chemicals introduced into the water bodies in the process. The toxic substances may enter the marine food chains and eventually get to us humans. Talk about bearing the consequences of our own actions. Unfortunately, many people, including those in the various defense agencies who are setting off their bombs in the oceans, do not see this link. And that is not all. Can you imagine the number of marine creatures, including our sea turtles, dolphins and sharks etc that might also be killed in the process? The noise pollution created in the process also interferes with their communication and navigation.

Beyond the facts

But so what if we know all the facts above on ocean pollution?

Don’t allow this new knowledge that you have just gained to remain as a piece of information. Do something with it – in the process, you will actually be doing something to help in the situations above.

What can you do with the information on ocean pollution above?

The simplest is just to spread the information on ocean pollution to the people around you (eg. your family, friends, colleagues, etc). Help create awareness about the atrocities that common people like you and I can commit, as a result of our ignorance. You might be surprised that not many people are aware of the harmfulness of plastics, the harms we are creating the way we are disposing of our rubbish, nor how much mankind is polluting the oceans and other water bodies. Spread the word on ocean pollution, through word of mouth over meal-time conversations, or through social media like Facebook, Twitter, etc (use the Facebook and Twitter buttons below). The greater the awareness of the issue, the more likely mankind will come together to do something to make it right.

Other than helping to spread the message on ocean pollution, individually, you can also help by recycling your plastic waste, or reducing your use of plastics. And if you wish to do more, seek to reduce the total amount of trash you create on a daily basis. If everyone just reduces their garbage creation by just half, the world would be a much cleaner place already.

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