The pollution of the ocean is one of the biggest concerns about our future that we have currently.
To put it simply, pollution is seriously harming our ocean, and leaving its mark on the sealife and coral reefs and of course this has a direct impact on our environment.
We rely on the ocean to regulate our climate, it contains 97% of the world’s water and gives us more than 50% of our oxygen, so you can see how this can seriously affect our environment and it’s important to not only learn about how and why pollution ends up in our ocean, but also to understand the immediate and long-term effects.
This article will set out to outline how pollution is affecting not only our ocean but also the environment and how this affects human and marine health.
How Does Pollution End Up In The Ocean?
You probably already know that a lot of the pollution in the ocean is plastic, it’s currently estimated that we’re polluting the ocean with around 12.7 million tons of plastic a year.
To put this into perspective, the plastic in the ocean is killing around 100 million marine animals a year and around 12,000-14,000 tons of plastic are ingested by North Pacific fish yearly.
The plastic in our ocean is doing irreparable damage to our marine life and environment.
The pollution is only getting worse too, experts predict that by 2050 plastic in the ocean will end up outweighing the biomass of all fish in the ocean.
It’s not just plastic though, common types of marine debris include various types of plastic, cigarette butts, bottle caps, food wrappers and fishing gear.
But the main two types of pollution entering the ocean are plastic and chemical.
Ocean pollution is a high concern for all of us and our future, and it has implications for our health, environment and economy. But how does it actually end up in our ocean?
How Does Debris End Up In The Ocean?
To understand how debris makes its way into the ocean, it’s important to understand some facts about the amount of debris that ends up here.
The majority of pollutants come from human activity on both land and sea, which probably isn’t that surprising.
We also produce 381 million tons of plastic waste annually, and from this around 8 million pieces of plastic make their way into our oceans everyday. Astonishingly, 88% of the ocean’s surface is polluted by this plastic waste.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than 80% of all ocean pollution originates on land, and the highest contributor to this pollution is cars, septic tanks and farms.
Land pollution And Landfills
The plastic and waste that we get rid of can easily end up getting washed away into storm drains and rivers which then can lead into the ocean.
The waste can also end up being carried away by the wind, or even dumped illegally into rivers, there’s so many more ways that land pollution can end up in the ocean, but these are just a few.
Non-Point Source Pollution
This type of pollution occurs due to heavy rain or flooding, this then makes the water come into contact with harmful chemicals or toxic waste and then it makes its way into the ocean via local waterways.
This type of pollution is usually discharged from ships, factories or smokestacks.
It can also come from large farms that manage livestock, sewage treatments and also other large factories that handle toxic waste can cause source pollution.
The reason plastics are so environmentally dangerous is because they never truly disappear, there’s no naturally occurring organisms that can break them down effectively.
Microbeads and microfibres can be washed down the drain from showers, toilets, or laundry, which can hurt marine life down the line.
To minimize the amount of microplastics you indirectly put into the ocean, consider switching to products that don’t have toxic chemicals or plastic microbeads and promote eco-friendly ingredients that explicitly say they are non-toxic and plastic free.
Fishing gear that’s been dumped in the ocean is a significant contributor to ocean pollution and can seriously harm marine life.
Fishing lines, nets and traps used in fishing that have been dumped into the ocean can ultimately lead to the loss of marine life, they’re easily tangled in nets and lines which can cause them severe injury and even death.
How Does Pollution In The Ocean Affect The Environment?
Like we mentioned before about plastic, it takes hundreds of years to decompose, as there’s no naturally occurring organism that can effectively break it down, but even once it does eventually decompose, it will leave millions of tiny plastic particles behind.
But again, it’s not only plastic that pollutes our ocean, whatever the form of trash, it poses a severe risk to both animals and humans.
Chemical pollution from heavy metals, pesticides and oils are highly toxic to marine life and the majority of this waste comes from just 10 river systems.
How Does Ocean Pollution Affect Marine Life?
The waste that we see washed up on the shore is only a tiny insight into what’s actually going on in the ocean, there’s so much more waste floating about in the ocean that we don’t see.
The reality is that it’s threatening the lives of millions of marine animals.
The microplastics that we mentioned earlier are consumed in the animals’ food cycle which can cause serious health concerns and in many cases even result in the animals’ death.
Whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks, fish and sea birds are frequently injured by this debris, and sadly most of the time don’t survive their injuries.
How Does Ocean Pollution Affect Human Health?
Now we know how ocean pollution directly affects marine life, but how does it affect human health?
Well, ocean pollution is a threat to human health due to how much of the global population relies on seafood for consumption.
Chemicals like oil, mercury, pesticides or lead can contaminate water systems and the food that we eat.
Ocean pollution consists of combinations of metals, chemicals, plastics, petroleum, urban waste, industrial waste pharmaceutical chemicals, farm and agricultural runoff and sewage waste.
What Will Happen If We Keep Polluting The Ocean?
Sadly, by 2050, experts predict that plastic in the ocean will start to outweigh the biomass of all the fish in the ocean.
This paired with climate change, the sea-level rising and rising temperatures will continue to worsen the health of marine life, the coral reefs and the ocean as a whole.
Scientists also predict that by 2034, the ocean will be under severe stress, the rising temperatures mean a warmer sea, which can have a detrimental effect on coral reefs as it can cause coral bleaching.
A warmer climate also means less oxygen, which will lead more marine life to die as it will be nearly impossible for them to survive without oxygen.
It’s hard to actually imagine the amount of pollution in the ocean, we cannot see it, so often people will choose to ignore it.
But the amount of waste in the ocean has led a hand in creating over 500 dead zones in the ocean, this means in these areas there’s not enough oxygen for the ecosystem and marine life to be sustained.
How Much Pollution Ends Up Being Washed Up On Beaches?
Even on the most remote coastlines, plastic waste is washing up on their shores.
Islands that were one sought out as beautiful, tropical paradises that have been mainly untouched, are having so much trouble with the amount of garbage that washes up on their shores daily.
It’s even worse for monsoonal countries, as the rain season brings high winds and strong currents which brings even more trash and debris to wash up on their coastlines.
After reading this article, it can be quite hard to hear about the impact that mostly all of us have on the ocean and marine life.
It’s a global problem, so you personally cannot stop the entirety of the pollution in the ocean, but the main thing you should take away from this, is that together we can make a difference in ridding the ocean of pollution, slowly but surely.
You can start by switching to many eco-friendly alternatives that are non-toxic and don’t include any plastics, and just be more mindful of where your trash is going in general, make sure to recycle as much as you can.
If you leave by a beach, even better!
Why not join a local beach clean and help out your community in cleaning up the environment, or simply go for a walk along the coastline and see how much debris you can clean up, you’ll be surprised at how much plastic is littering the sands!