Ocean pollution: Poisoning marine life and threatening marine biodiversity

Published: 2 December 2016

In an increasingly urbanised world, driven by consumerism and industry, our oceans are becoming more and more at risk. Despite the great mass of our oceans, they have in fact suffered at our hands. Our oceans are home to over a million known different species of animals and plants, a rather astounding fact. Just like on land, marine life relies on a healthy ecosystem to survive. It is only over the past decade or so that ocean pollution has been regarded as a serious environmental issue. Before such recognition, ocean pollution was generally regarded as not harmful, with the ocean body itself known to ‘easily dilute any pollution’. Today, we know that not to be true, and have witnessed the degradation of the ocean eco-system and animal lives as a direct result of ocean pollution.

What effects does Ocean Pollution have on the environment?

When referring to an environment, in this case, we are directly referring to the ocean environment, the marine ecosystem. The urbanisation of our land has seen a huge increase in industrial factories. The contaminants leaked from cities and farmland is greater than ever before and is continuing to grow. Such contaminants are unknown to the marine ecosystem, and act as poisoning.

The most common man-made pollutants that reach the marine ecosystem include pesticides, herbicides, oils, sewage, chemicals, plastics and other man-made solids. Such contaminants do not merely ‘dilute’ in the depths of the ocean, instead, they collect there and stay there. Another type of pollution that is often overlooked is noise pollution. Our actions on the surface and depths of the oceans pose as dangerous threats to many species. Noise pollution refers to the sound waves that come as a direct result from man-made objects. If we consider the way in which we interfere with the oceans through large ships, oil rigging and sonar devices, we can begin to understand how animals are threatened by unfamiliar noise. Noise travels further in the ocean, with sound waves frequenting uninterrupted for huge distances.

How are animals affected by Ocean pollution?

The effects of ocean pollution are widespread and have already devastated many species and continue to threat. Sea turtles are particularly vulnerable to ocean pollution, with species such as the leatherback sea turtle and the green turtle being directly affected. These species feed on jellyfish, contaminants such as plastic bags are often confused for jellyfish, leaving the species at increased risk of death.

The effects of consumption of man-made items such as plastic bags even spread further, with marine species including dolphins, whales and seals to name a few suffering and in some cases dying. Fertiliser run off is a huge threat to marine life. The additional nutrients in the oceans, result in eutrophication, an increase in the volume of algae. The algae intakes a huge amount of the oceans dissolved oxygen, resulting in widespread marine life suffocating. Areas particularly affected by eutrophication include the Baltic Sea as well as the Gulf of Mexico, which are known as ‘dead’ areas. Even though it may seem entirely natural that our sewage waste makes it way to the sea, there are areas in the world that place less emphasis on treating sewage waste. Around 80% of the sewage waste that makes its way to the Mediterranean Sea is left untreated, as a result, eutrophication is even more likely. The complexity of ocean pollution is unimaginable and requires much work to help rebuild damaged marine ecosystems.

What can be done?

Like all environmental issues, there is something we can do collectively to prevent further damage. However, it is realistic to recognise that as individuals we are quite limited. The majority of the responsibility lies within the hands of industrial companies, factories, farms and sewage works. Restrictions are being implemented across the globe to encourage such places to reduce their contaminant leakages. With fines being issued for companies that leak wastage of harmful contaminants irresponsibly. However if we look at the smaller picture, there are a variety of things you can do to encourage such companies from reducing their likeliness of contributing to ocean pollution.

You can also be mindful of your own habits, which can make a difference in protecting marine life from ocean pollution. One of the main contaminants to make its way into the ocean is plastic waste. An easy solution to minimising the amount of plastic waste in our oceans is to decrease our consumer demand for such products and recycle. Recycling our household responsibly can significantly reduce ocean pollution, and of course plastic contaminants present in the ocean eco-system. With a staggering 80% of ocean pollution deriving from land, recycling is a guaranteed way to reduce collectively the pollution of our oceans. If you live in a coastal city or even close to the coast itself, you may have noticed that a lot of waste is often present on beaches. This may be due to beach visitors who fail to throw their litter in bins, or even intentional dumping of unwanted items/rubbish. By making an effort to clean our beaches, we reduce the risk of the rubbish making its way to the ocean. Such clean-ups can be relatively simple to organise and take minimum effort as a group but result in instant relief for animals.

In addition to the above, by supporting those who are fighting the issue on a larger scale you are making a difference. Donations to charity may seem inadequate in terms of help, but every donation really does help fight the issue as a wider cause.

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