Conserving the Marine Ecosystem Is a Necessity and Not an Option
Dec, 2020 - By Nilanjana Chakraborty
The natural resources of this planet are limitless when used properly, but humans have always taken them for granted and used them abundantly without caring for the future. Now every individual living on the Earth suffers from health issues caused due to the lack of purity in the air, water, soil. Marine pollution is one of the major challenges to reach environmental sustainability. Every year thousands of tons of debris and harmful pollutants such as chemicals, oils, plastics, etc. are dumped in the ocean making the waters toxic for both the living beings on the land and the underwater. 80% of ocean pollution comes from the land. Sometimes air blown debris and particle of chemical matters also get mixed with the ocean water.
History of Ocean Pollution
The origination time of ocean pollution dates long back in the pages of history, but until the 20th century, there were no laws for ocean conservations. Most scientists of that era used to believe that because of the vastness of the ocean it cannot be polluted. In the late 1950s, a controversy of dumping radioactive wastes in the ocean waters arose. The controversies were regarding the actions of different organizations.
- The U.S. coast pollution by companies licensed by Atomic energy commission.
- Irish Sea pollution by British reprocessing facility at Windscale.
- Mediterranean Sea pollution by the French Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique.
The increasing rate of marine pollution was fueled by the crash of the oil tanker Torrey Canyon in 1967 and the Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969, on the Californian coast. Due to all these events, marine pollution became the major topic of discussion in the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, which took place in Stockholm. Hence, in 1972, the London Convention, also known as the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, was signed. However, the London Convention did not ban ocean pollution, instead, it established two lists; grey list and blacklist. The blacklist contained the name of banned substances, while the grey list contained substances that should be regulated by the national authorities. Substances such as high-level radioactive waste and Cyanide were put on the blacklist. This convention was only applied to waste dumped from ships and hence it had no regulation over wastes drained in the water by pipelines.
Reasons Behind Ocean Pollution
The main reason behind ocean pollution is human activities along the coastline and from far inland.
- The wastewater which falls in the ocean through rivers and pipelines mainly contains harmful pollutants released by human and animal excretions.
- Another major source of ocean pollution is industrial waste which includes chemicals released from fertilizers, pesticides, and the plants manufacturing them. The pollutants are directly washed off in the ocean water and alter the pH level of the water, making it toxic.
- Radioactive and nuclear waste is probably the most harmful when released in nature. Industries, medical labs, and science labs that deal with radioactive elements have a major hand in polluting the ocean waters. These waste substances contain radiation which has the potential to change the entire ocean ecosystem.
- When power plants and manufacturing companies release hot water into the ocean it causes thermal pollution. This not only increases the temperature but also decreases the quality of the water. This sudden change in ocean water temperature and quality challenges the adaptability of marine animals and plants.
- The greatest curse of this world in modern times is plastic. Plastic pollution is not only restricted to water but also land and air. Plastics are non-biodegradable and when dumped in oceans they stay there forever becoming the biggest predators in the aquatic ecosystem.
- When fossil fuels are burnt, toxic gases emitted from them mix with rainwater, leading to acid rain. During acid rain, these toxic substances mix with the ocean waters.
- Oil spill is another major reason for ocean pollution. Oil doesn’t mix with water hence creates a layer on top, and prevents oxygen from entering the water. Lack of adequate oxygen in ocean water leads to the destruction of marine life.
Recent Statistics of Ocean Pollution
Numerous studies have been conducted by organizations such as Ecowatch, National Geographic, OceanCrusaders, PlasticOceans, UNESCO, EarthDay, SAS, BBC, RubiconGlobal, NBC, VOX, Statista, PlasticOceans, EcoWatch, GlobalCitizen, WorldOceanNetwork, Mission Blue, WWF, NRDC, UN Environment, WWF, and NRDC on the state of ocean pollution worldwide and the studies have provided facts that are worse than expected.
- Every year, 100 million ocean animals die due to plastic
- Many marine animal species are found entangled in waste and debris such as wires.
- Fish in the North Pacific consume about 12000 to 14000 tons of plastic every year.
- The largest garbage site on this planet is twice the surface area of Texas and is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
- China ranks at the top of the list of mismanaged waste and plastics, closely followed by the U.S.
- Experts estimated that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic waste on the ocean floor.
- 15% of debris generated by human activities float on the ocean water, 15% remains on beaches while 70% sinks in the water and stays.
- Every year approximately 8.3 million tons of plastic are discarded in the ocean.
- From 1950 to 1998, around 100 nuclear blast tests were carried out in the ocean waters
- Approximately 500 marine zones are now considered as dead zones.
- Agricultural waste, sewage discharge, and pesticides account for 80% of global marine pollution.
- The majority of marine life cannot differentiate between plastic and food.
- Plastics clog the stomach of marine animals when ingested hence leading to death due to starvation.
- In some recent studies, 36% of seals, 59% of whales, and 100% of turtles were found with plastics in their digestive system.
Effects of Ocean Pollution on Marine Life-
This humongous level of pollution is slowly but efficiently killing the marine ecosystem.
- Due to a sudden pH change of water (carbon wastes and hot water is dumped in the ocean waters), oceans are becoming acidic. To build their outer protective layers, marine animals like mussels, clams, corals, and oysters need calcium carbonate. However, due to acidity, the ocean's carbonate levels have gone down at an alarming rate, which has put the lives of these creatures at risk. Even though these are the base level creatures in the food chain, the ripple effect goes to the top.
- Oils from boats and tankers sailing on the sea, chemical discharges from factories, sewage, plastics, etc., are threatening the life of the marine ecosystem. Some marine creatures eat these toxic materials by misjudging them as food. These waste matters are the main reasons behind the marine extinction.
- The ocean is not at all a silent world. There is a lot of noise inside and every creature has its own way of communicating. Sound travels much faster and farther in the depths of the ocean and the marine creatures rely on this communication. However, due to human-generated noise interference such as seismic waves, these communications are losing impact which is leading to a change in the marine acoustic landscape. For example, high-intensity sonars used by the U.S. Navy force for training and testing have caused a similar effect and led to mass whale stranding.
Effects of Ocean Pollution on Humans-
The ocean water pollution is not only harming the marine ecosystem but also the ecosystem on land. The industries which are dependent on the ocean are as follows:
- Fishing and boating
- Tourism and recreation
- Ocean transport
The marine waters and coasts support around 28 million jobs. The coastal areas of the U.S. generate 85% of tourism revenues. Apart from this, the oceans also help in regularizing the climate and aids the nutrient recycling process. The health of the ocean is related to the health of humans. Ocean pollution leads to an innumerable amount of water-borne diseases, infections, contaminated seafood, algae boom, etc., hampering the day-to-day lifestyle. This also puts the coastal economies at risk.
Initiatives Taken For Ocean Cleanup and Conservation
The ocean protection laws are-
- Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA)
- The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships (APPS)
- Shore Protection Act (SPA)
- Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act (MDRPRA)
- The BEACH Act of 2000
Many ocean cleaning initiatives have been taken on a scale of being worldwide to local. In them, one nonprofit organization known as the Ocean Cleanup has taken the main media attention. It is an environmental organization located in the Netherlands. They develop technologies to extract plastic from the ocean and also from rivers before it can reach the ocean. After testing a prototype in the North Sea they deployed their first fully operating prototype in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The prototype faced some difficulties and was towed in Hawaii for inspection and repair works. Then in June 2019, the second prototype was deployed by Ocean Cleanup. This organization was founded by Boyan Slat in 2013. The Ocean Cleanup has already conducted two expeditions known as the Mega Expedition and the Aerial Expedition, in the waters of the North Pacific Gyre. Their system mainly consists of a floating barrier on the surface of the water to collect marine debris and an anchor to slow the system down amidst the fast ocean current and wind. This organization aims to clear out at least 50% of the ocean debris in five years by deploying 60 ocean cleaning systems to the Great Pacific Garbage patch. To clean up the waste near the coastline, the Ocean Cleanup has announced a new initiative known as the Interceptor.
Many other organizations are working towards conserving the marine life and ecosystem, like-
- Surfrider Foundation
- Ocean Conservancy
- Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
- Green Peace
- Take 3
- Oceanic Preservation Society
- The 5 Gyres Institute
- Bahamas Plastic Movement
- RicO’Barry’s Dolphin Project
- Blue Frontier Campaign
- The Environmental Defense Fund
- Natural Resources Defense Council
- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
- Project AWARE
Many organizations worldwide are taking initiatives in cleaning and preserving the ocean waters and the marine ecosystem. But it depends on every individual living on this earth to respect the natural resources and to use them wisely. Banning plastic is not the only solution. Until and unless people are educated about what is happening in the world and how to create a sustainable environment, the world will advance towards mass extinction.