The awareness of the fact oceans are polluted increases but what does it mean?
In recent years as we are witnessing the effects of global warming and environmental crises, we became more aware of sub-problems of the way our society lives. The fact our ocean is polluted is a symptom of the wider problem of the way we produce commodities and treat waste and by-products. This article covers the topic of ocean pollution and it’s part of the series on degrading water quality and what we can and should do about it.
So what does a polluted ocean means?
This definition of pollution generally refers to the introduction of harmful substances or interferences into an environment. When we talk about oceans the pollutants are typically substances like chemicals, and waste materials and the interferences are noise and temperature variation (water in unnatural temperature). All of those have negative impacts on marine life and the overall health of the ecosystems in ways we don’t fully know how to measure.
Sources of ocean pollution include human activities like oil spills, plastic waste, chemical runoff from land, and even noise and heat created by marine transportation. Pollution doesn’t have to be from an unnatural source, natural events such as volcanic eruptions and storms can also threaten the balance of an environment. The impacts of ocean pollution can be devastating, and break the maintained balance that enabled the thriving of those systems.
When an ecological system breaks it leads to reduced biodiversity and climate migration of species. In turn, those changes will change the balance even more and start compounding negative effects on other natural systems that depend on the health of oceans. And the last link in the chain is our human society, which depends on it for both our health and economics.
But why is it bad?
Pollution puts the balance of any natural system at risk, part of the impact we can foresee but in most cases, we understand the balance is interrupted only when the damage already happened. The degradation of the ocean’s health is responsible for many documented damages to groups of marine animals, such as fish, birds, turtles, and whales. We started understanding the risk of it when other ecosystems depending on them started losing their balance.
Additionally, since our society depends on some of those systems to feed itself, we started seeing the outcomes associated with bioaccumulation on our health. Famous examples of that process are the increasing mercury levels in tuna fish or the latest discoveries of microplastic traces in human bodies.
Besides bioaccumulation, it impacts human health directly, as toxic chemicals and pollutants make beaches dangerous for leisure activities.
Moreover, ocean pollution damages some of the economic resources that societies depend on. Especially in developing island countries the dependency on fishing as a source of healthy proteins and fats or for tourism. Finally, it can also have a negative impact on the overall ability of the ocean to sustain and restore itself. Like any other system when we overload it for too long it will just fail to sustain this load. Our oceans play a critical role in regulating the Earth’s climate and supporting the conditions that a crucial for life on our planet.
The ocean is so big is it polluted in a uniform way?
The short answer is no, although it is far more complicated. The chemical properties of a pollutant determine how much will it spread in any environment, including marine ones. Moreover, the concentration of a pollutant is also a key factor in determining how hazardous its impact will be. Pollutants like crude oil or petroleum are hydrophobic, meaning they don’t mix with water. Therefore the impact of such pollution is more local usually impacting the surface of the water. Such pollution will result in a relatively local impact, that may be very hazardous for marine life. That being said, its effects are limited to the area close to discharge.
Ocean pollution is not uniform and can vary greatly in concentration and type depending on the location and source of the pollution. For example, the types of pollution concentrations near urban areas and industrial sites are greater than in remote and natural areas of the ocean. Similarly, pollution can come in different forms, such as plastics, chemicals, and oil spills, each with unique environmental impacts. The movement of ocean currents can also distribute pollution over wide areas, making it challenging to address and clean up a specific pollutant in a specific place. Overall, oceans are complex natural habitats therefore pollution problems in such a medium are complex and vary from site to site.
Who is in charge of metering ocean pollution?
There are a variety of organizations and entities involved in monitoring and measuring ocean pollution.
The United Nations has established several bodies, including the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), that are responsible for regulating and monitoring pollution in oceans. National governments also take part in monitoring and regulating ocean pollution within their territorial waters. Many countries have established agencies or departments dedicated to monitoring and enforcing environmental regulations related to ocean pollution, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the European Environment Agency (EEA).
Additionally, there are several NGOs – non-governmental organizations, operating in this field. The last specialize in monitoring and raising awareness of ocean pollution. Many NGOs conduct research and monitoring programs to track the impacts of pollution on the marine environment and advocate for stronger regulations and enforcement to protect the oceans.
Finally, there are a variety of citizen science initiatives and community-based monitoring programs that allow individuals and communities to get involved in measuring and addressing ocean pollution.
What pollutant is considered most hazardous in this context?
It is important to note that there is no single pollutant that is considered the most hazardous in the context of ocean pollution. Each pollutant has its different impacts on marine ecosystems and human health. That being said when you hear about ocean pollution the most common substances that people refer to are plastic, chemicals, and petroleum derivatives.
Plastic pollution is a major concern
As plastics can persist in the environment for hundreds of years. Marine animals often mistake plastics for food or become entangled in them. Plastics are substances made of long chains of polymers. When the last are exposed to heating, like the sun’s radiation they tend to break down into smaller microscopic scale chains called microplastics.
Microplastics are small plastic particles less than 5 mm in size. It’s a particular concern because they are ingested by marine animals and accumulate in them over time, this process is called bio-accumulation. In terms of scientific research length, this is a new problem that potentially will have long-term harm. Unfortunately, not enough data is available to assess the hazard and neither is a process to mitigate it besides relying less on plastic. An additional concern about microplastics is bio-magnification, a process in which the concentration of the pollutant is increasing along the food chain. In fact, it’s already estimated that the average person eats the equivalent of a credit card worth of plastics every month.
Chemical pollutants often find their way into the marine environment
Introducing a chemical to a biological environment can affect many characteristics of the chemical processes. Some example of changes that may occur during a discharge of chemicals is a change in the PH levels, a change in electrical conductivity, and many more. The chemicals often come from agricultural waste like pesticides and industrial waste like heavy metals or petroleum derivatives from marine transport and oil drilling. The chemicals are entering the ocean through runoff from land or discharge from ships and offshore platforms or even flooding events of sewer systems. These pollutants can accumulate in the tissues of marine animals and can be toxic to humans who consume contaminated seafood.
Excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus are a particular concern. Originating from agricultural use and ending in the ocean due to runoff and sewage discharge. High concentrations of those chemicals lead to harmful algal blooms that increase oxygen demand. When the oxygen demand is higher there is simply less of it to sustain healthy marine life. Lower levels may also negatively affect the local balance, changing the favorable conditions that supported some species and making it easier for invasive species to threaten the native biological system.
Oil spills and other petroleum product leaks can have catastrophic impacts on marine ecosystems and can harm marine animals. An example of the impact is oil floating on top of the water the oil can decrease the amount of light entering the water which is very important for some species.
How can we decrease the concentration of that pollution in the oceans?
Another topic that should be improved is the different industrial practices and regulating policies. Governments and industries can work together to reduce the amount of pollution that is released into the environment from factories, power plants, and other sources. On top of that governments should work together to create uniform standards, otherwise, the efforts of one will not be enough to stop the decline in ocean health. This can be achieved through stricter regulations and international collaboration and better pollution control technologies.
The same goes for the agriculture practices we use. We should both Implement sustainable agriculture methods with stricter regulation, and uniform worldwide. and: Agricultural runoff is a major source of nutrient pollution in the oceans. By promoting sustainable agriculture practices, such as reducing the use of fertilizers and managing soil erosion, nutrient pollution can be reduced.
All of the above are crucial to stop the decline in marine environment health, but it wouldn’t be enough to restore them. Promote conservation and restoration of marine ecosystems, since healthy ecosystems are better able to absorb and recover from pollution. By promoting the conservation areas, and restoration projects we can help to reduce the impacts of pollution and increase the resilience of marine ecosystems.
Where can you find open information sources about ocean pollution?
There are several open information sources that publish information about ocean pollution, from creditable sources. These can provide valuable insights into the nature and extent of ocean pollution and the efforts being made to address it.
- The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) publishes regular reports on the state of the world’s oceans and the impacts of pollution on marine ecosystems.
- The Ocean Conservancy is an NGO that conducts research and advocates for policies to address ocean pollution. They publish a range of reports and resources on their website, including an annual report on the world’s most littered items.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides a range of information and data on ocean pollution, including real-time data on marine debris and oil spill response and recovery efforts.
- Ocean Cleanup is a nonprofit organization that develops advanced technologies to remove plastic waste from the ocean. They publish regular updates on their cleanup efforts and the state of plastic pollution in the ocean.
- The Marine Debris Tracker is a citizen science initiative that allows individuals to track and report on litter and debris in the ocean. The data is used to inform research and policy efforts to address ocean pollution.
Overall, reducing ocean pollution requires a coordinated and sustained effort across multiple sectors and levels of society. By implementing these and other strategies, we can help to protect and preserve the health and integrity of the world’s oceans.
In conclusion, ocean pollution is a significant and complex problem that has far-reaching impacts on both marine ecosystems and human society of which many have yet to be discovered. The introduction of harmful substances and interferences into the environment can cause devastating harm to the native habitats. In the case of oceans, there are countless examples of how marine life and biodiversity are negatively impacted by pollution. In addition, a range of economic resources that societies depend on are becoming scarce. While there are many organizations and entities involved in monitoring and regulating ocean pollution, it is everyone’s responsibility to work towards reducing waste, adopting sustainable practices, and promoting the conservation and restoration of marine ecosystems. By utilizing open information sources and becoming more aware of the issue, we can take collective action to protect our oceans and ensure a healthier future for all.