The Harmful Effects of Ocean Pollution and the Urgent Need for Action
Have you ever been to the beach and expected to see a beautiful, refreshing, and clean environment? Instead, you find a beach that is covered with plastic waste, pieces of metal, and chemicals. For example, in the North Pacific Ocean sits a massive patch. It has been famously known as The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Charles Moore describes it as a ‘Collection of marine debris that is the result of rotating ocean currents between Japan and the United States’ (cited in Perdew and White 6). It has ‘Been estimated to be twice the size of Texas’ (Ottum 52). The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an impressive illustration of what marine pollution is.
Impact on Marine Mammals
Each year, about eight million metric tons of plastic waste are found in the ocean. It is referred to as marine pollution. Marine pollution occurs when harmful material such as plastic, metal, chemicals, etc., waste enters and poses a threat to the ocean environment. Most of the pollution that goes into the ocean occurs from activities going on on land. Approximately 12 billion gallons of wastewater is dumped into the ocean. The majority of trash that goes into the ocean is plastic because plastic does not biodegrade. The harmful effects of marine pollution are it kills marine mammals, demolishes habitats, and poses dangerous risks to humans.
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Marine pollution kills marine mammals that encounter marine debris daily. In 2010, the largest marine oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico from the BP-operated Macondo Prospect. According to The New York Times, ‘As of Aug 16, more than 7,000 birds, sea turtles, and dolphins have been dead or debilitated in the gulf since the oil spill began.’ Not only is oil harmful to marine mammals, but so is plastic. Most mammals, like sea turtles, often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish. They eat it, but plastic bags block their digestive tracts, making it difficult to take in other food. Since it is impossible for them to eat, they end up starving, leading them to die from starvation.
Plastic has been found 11 Kilometers deep in the ocean, ‘The UN estimates that more than one million birds and 100,000 mammals die every year from plastic by poisoning, entanglement, and choking’ (Scherer 84). Some harmful waste can break down over time, but plastic cannot. Plastic will always be around them, causing them danger. Marine mammals take in pollutants into their body by using their gills. Judith S. Weis exclaims, ‘An animal in a polluted area accumulates toxic chemicals from each item of contaminated food that it eats’ (10). This means the animal takes in the harsh chemicals into their body and kills them. The chemicals poison their body, making them not be able to survive any longer.
Destruction of Habitats
In addition, marine pollution destroys habitats and the homes of millions of marine species. When chemicals are released into the ocean, many plants are highly affected. For example, coral reefs provide protection and are homes to marine mammals around. However, because the chemicals and nutrients are released, coral reefs end up dying. Not given a home or protection, the mammals need to hide from predators. An article from Ocean Health Index states that ‘When seagrass, mangrove, and salt marsh habitats are destroyed, they are no longer able to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.’ This means significant amounts of carbon dioxide are released and produced back into the atmosphere.
Most habitats provide sufficient food, like plants for marine species. For instance, an oil spill can impair a plant’s ability to grow and function properly. It can leave the species without food to depend on, or it can be contaminated. Noise pollution is an indirect effect of how it ‘Reduces food availability outside normal habitats, increased exposure to predators or other risks’ (Sarić and Randonja 37). Marine mammals might run out of food and decide to go out for food only to find out they hear a loud and scary sound, making them change direction to wander around in different habitats that are homes to their predators.
Human Health Risks
Furthermore, not only does marine pollution affect marine life, but it is also a dangerous risk for humans. Many people love to go to the beach, but they encounter debris that is unhealthy for the body. When swimmers go to the beach, some may be swimming in trash. Swimmers who swim in sewage-polluted water could contract an illness that was spread by the contaminated water. However, surfers and divers are at greater risk of being infected or catching an illness from the polluted water than swimmers. ‘Debris is a hazard to swimmers and divers who can become entangled in plastics or cut by sharp objects’ (Perdew and White 55). Humans can get seriously injured just by swimming in places they would not expect harmful things to be at.
While many people love the beach, they also love their seafood. Although seafood has a rich nutrient of protein, vitamins, and minerals, it can be risky to public health. To illustrate, Weis states that ‘The high variability in Hg in common seafood has ramifications for public health’ (94). Making it risky to consume large fish because Methylmercury biomagnifies in food webs. When humans consume fish that have ingested plastic, it is risky because of the toxic concentration in them. ‘Some effects can be it increases breast cancer in women, early puberty for girls…, affect developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune system’ (Perdew and White 55, 57). Some seafood may carry around bacteria and viruses from debris that could pose a health risk for consumers. Always be cautious of what you eat, so you and your body can both be healthy.
In conclusion, marine pollution poses a threat to the ocean by killing its marine mammals, destroying their habitats, and putting human life at risk. Every day, the oceans are being threatened by pollution, which marine life is suffering. Many thought since the ocean was a huge and deep place, dumping litter in the ocean would not face or have extreme consequences. It does not disappear but, instead, enters the food chain. Unfortunately, marine mammals are killed by marine debris, such as plastic they eat or chemicals that may enter their body. It even destroys their habitats because when chemicals are released, they can break down pieces of their home.
Not giving them the protection they need and food to survive. Humans are at risk, too, when swimming; swimmers can get injured by getting caught up in plastic or cutting themselves. Even from seafood, they eat, like fish that take in chemicals or consume plastic. It can cause many humans to be ill and not be healthy. When saltwater moves pollutants, it can travel from the ocean to freshwater, making wells that contaminate the groundwater.
Seventy percent of the marine debris is found at the bottom of the ocean, and the other 30 percent may be floating in the ocean or at shore. In many parts of the world, sewage water leads to the ocean being untreated and not cared for. There are different types of marine pollution, such as acidification, eutrophication, plastic debris, toxins, and underwater noise. They all have terrible effects on the ocean and its marine life. However, we can all put a stop to polluting our oceans. Michael J. Kennish describes how “Marine wastes may be organized into several distinct categories: degradable wastes, fertilizers, dissipating wastes, particulates, and conservative wastes” (3).
Together, we can keep our oceans clean and stop polluting so that marine life will not be affected. There are many organizations all around the world fighting to save and clean our oceans, as 97 percent of the earth’s water comes from the oceans. Rose George once said, ‘We are wasting our water mostly by putting waste into it. One cubic meter of wastewater can pollute ten cubic meters of water. Discharging wastewater into oceans turns freshwaters into the less useful salty stuff, and desalination is expensive.’
- BrainyQuote “Rose George Quotes.” Xplore, www.brainyquote.com/quotes/rose_george_634015
- Ocean Health Index “Trash Pollution.”, www.oceanhealthindex.org/methodology/components/trash-pollution.
- Otuum, Joshua. ‘Sounds Like Garbage: Paddling through an Imaginary Island of Trash toward a New Sonic Ecology.’ Social Alternatives, vol. 33, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 52–59. Academic Search Complete, db22.linccweb.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=96402387&site=ehost-live
- Perdew, Laura, and Angelicque White. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Essential Library, an Imprint of Abdo Publishing, 2018
- Sarić, Ivan and Radoslav Radonja. ‘Noise as a Source of Marine Pollution.’ Scientific Journal of Maritime Research, vol. 28, no. 1, Jan. 2014, pp. 31-39. Academic Search Complete, db22.linccweb.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=113414448&site=ehost-live.
- Scherer, Lauri S. Oceans. Greenhaven Press, 2011. The New York Times, The New York Times, Apr 28, 2010, archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/04/28/us/20100428-spill-map.html?_r=0.
- Weis, Judith S. Marine Pollution: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford University Press, 2015.
- Kennish, M., Kennish, M., Lutz, P. (2017). Practical Handbook of Estuarine and Marine Pollution. Boca Raton: CRC Press.