“The environmentalists say capitalism is killing our oceans, air, land, and forests. Capitalists argue that they provide food, fuel, and building materials for a growing world.”
Robert Kiyosaki, Author
Ocean Pollution: Causes, Effects & Solutions
Ocean pollution, often also referred to as marine pollution, can be defined as the contamination of our oceans with harmful substances like plastic, oil, heavy metals, particles and other substances that may hurt a variety of sea animals and plants.
There are many causes for ocean pollution, most of them are man-made. Marine pollution can have severe adverse effects on a huge number of water organisms and even on us humans through the food chain.
In this article, the causes, effects and solutions for ocean pollution are examined in detail.
Causes for Ocean Pollution
- Industrial waste
- Oil platforms
- Ocean mining
- Illegal dumping
- Lack of regulation
- Surface runoffs
- Cargo transportation
- Lack of expertise
- Tanker leaks
- Marine accidents
- Consumption behavior
- Excessive waste production
Industrial waste can be a significant cause of ocean pollution. Especially in poor developing countries, plenty of waste is often disposed into the oceans since it is relatively easy and often not fined high enough to worry about it. Thus, industries have an incentive to dispose of their trash in our oceans instead of disposing of it in official landfills.
Making things worse, industrial waste is often shipped from other countries to developing countries in order to get rid of it. This process of so-called environmental dumping further exacerbates the issue of ocean pollution since the waste-receiving countries are often literally drowning in waste and will feel therefore obliged to dispose of part of their garbage into our oceans.
Oil platforms may be another cause of ocean pollution. If there are leaks in oil platforms, oil could enter the oceans which can cause serious environmental problems. Moreover, plenty of waste is produced on oil platforms over time.
If this waste is not disposed of properly but rather just dumped into the ocean, this could also lead to significant marine pollution, especially if this waste contains harmful components.
In the process of ocean mining, plenty of precious materials are mined. However, this mining process also often involves the contamination of the ocean with harmful substances or even toxic heavy metals since these substances are often by-products of the actual precious metals. If these by-products are not treated appropriately, chances are that they can lead to massive water pollution.
Illegal dumping can also be a big issue regarding ocean pollution. Many companies, especially in countries with low levels of control instances regarding waste management, will often dump their garbage into nearby rivers or lakes in order to get rid of it instead of disposing of their trash on landfills or other official disposal facilities. By doing so, harmful substances can enter the water, which may eventually end up in our oceans.
Lack of regulation
There may also be a lack of regulation in some countries when it comes to ocean pollution. Some developing countries may have so many other issues that they simply do not care or do not have time to care about the pollution of our oceans since they feel it is not too important to them.
However, this attitude can lead to serious long-term issues, also for these countries, since their beaches may be polluted which in turn could decrease the revenues from tourist activities.
Through excessive rainfalls which turn into floods, plenty of material can be washed into the ocean. This could result in marine pollution if this material contains harmful substances or trash.
Moreover, the concentration of nutrients in the coast region of the ocean may increase due to surface runoffs, which may increase the algae concentration and lower oxygen levels which in turn could hurt fishes and other sea animals.
Cargo ships may also cause significant marine pollution. Since these ships often travel around for quite long distances, during this time, they also produce significant amounts of waste.
If this waste is not stored properly but rather disposed into the ocean, it could contaminate the water. Moreover, cargo ships may also lose some of their freight which may also cause water pollution, especially if these ships loaded toxic substances.
Lack of expertise
Many people working on cargo ships or in other jobs that are related to the sea may also have a low level of expertise and may not know how to deal with trash properly.
They may just give the order to dispose of the garbage into the ocean, not knowing how dangerous this behavior could be for sea animals and plants.
Oil tanker leaks may also be a significant reason for marine pollution. Oil tankers often carry pretty large amounts of oil. If there are leaks, plenty of oil can enter the water which may in turn lead to significant ocean pollution.
Oil is quite harmful to marine life since it will be around for a quite long period of time. Many fishes, birds and other sea animals will lose their life due to oil layers on the surface of our oceans.
Some people may also do not care about our oceans at all. There are some occasions where you see people just throwing their garbage right into the ocean instead of using a trash bin.
If the number of people behaving like this is sufficiently high, this behavior could also lead to serious water pollution and to the related adverse effects.
Marine accidents can also be quite harmful to ocean life. For instance, if a cargo ship loses part of its freight, depending on the loading, it can vastly contaminate our oceans with harmful substances. Moreover, if oil tankers get in trouble at sea, they may lose plenty of oil which in turn can lead to large oil slicks.
Another indirect reason for marine pollution is our excessive consumption behavior. Since the industrial revolution period, our consumption levels skyrocketed since unit prices for goods became quite cheap compared to the average income.
However, this excessive consumption leads to several environmental issues. Old things that would still be working are often disposed into the trash bin. Moreover, many people also use food delivery services on a regular basis.
Apart from the carbon dioxide emission which contributes to the global warming issue, food delivery often also implies excessive wrapping.
This consumption behavior leads to excessive amounts of waste which in turn may lead to significant ocean pollution since part of this waste will eventually end up in our oceans due to ocean dumping or illegal waste dumping.
Excessive waste production
Not only private consumer waste, but excessive waste production in general is a big ecological issue. Many of the items that are produced are packaged into excessive amounts of plastic which leads to massive environmental issues in the long run since we have to get rid of this plastic waste somehow.
Since many industrialized countries ship their waste to poor developing countries, these countries may in turn dispose of this plastic trash into the ocean since they are simply overwhelmed with the amount of waste that they get every day.
Effects of Marine Pollution
- Biodiversity loss
- Water pollution
- Destruction of habitats for water animals
- Harm to coral reefs
- Endangerment and extinction of species
- Effects on aquatic plants
- Public health issues
- Visual pollution
- Drop in tourism
- Decrease in fish populations
- Loss of livelihood for locals
Ocean pollution can lead to a massive loss in biodiversity. Especially in areas with a high concentration of harmful substances in the water, sea animals and plants often suffer from significant adverse effects. Imagine an ocean area where there is a huge oil slick.
Many birds may simply die due to the fact that they get contaminated by the toxic components of oil and may also not be able to find enough food anymore since fishes will try to leave the affected area.
This may lead to a significant loss of local biodiversity since the local flora and fauna is often quite sensitive to adverse changes in their living conditions.
Ocean pollution also implies massive levels of water pollution. Many harmful ingredients from illegally dumped waste or also from oil spills will contaminate the ocean water.
This may in turn lead to massive adverse effects for many fishes and other sea animals since these animals will digest the contaminated water and will therefore also get contaminated, which may in turn lead to diseases and also to death for these sea organisms.
Destruction of habitats for water animals
If the concentration of harmful substances in the water is too high, it can lead to the destruction of whole habitats of water animals. Imagine a load of toxic waste enters the ocean due to an accident.
Chances are that the toxic waste may contaminate the water to such a degree that large parts of the water plants die off.
In turn, fishes living in these regions may lose their food source since they cannot consume these plants anymore. In turn, the local habitat may entirely die off.
Harm to coral reefs
Since corals are living organisms, they may also be hurt by marine pollution in a drastic manner. Many corals are quite sensitive to changes in water temperature and also to changes in water quality.
If the level of contamination becomes too high, these corals will likely die off which may destroy big coral reefs in the long run.
Endangerment and extinction of species
A significant number of species may also become endangered or even extinct due to ocean pollution. Imagine sea animals that only occur on a few small spots on our planet.
If these areas are polluted with harmful substances, chances are that these organisms are not able to adapt to the new conditions properly and may therefore die off.
If the contamination is severe enough, the extinction of whole species could be the consequence.
Effects on aquatic plants
Not only aquatic animals are negatively affected by marine pollution, also aquatic plants may significantly suffer from ocean pollution. Compared to animals, plants are not able to relocate to other ocean areas, at least not on an individual level.
This means that they are often helpless against water pollution and simply have to try to deal with the new circumstances. Therefore, also the population of sea plants may be lowered due to the contamination with harmful substances.
Public health issues
Apart from the negative impact on aquatic life, ocean pollution may also cause severe public health issues for humans. Many of us consume plenty of fish and other seafood on a regular basis.
However, if these sea animals or plants have been contaminated with harmful substances due to marine pollution, we will also consume these substances through the food chain which could lead to severe health conditions.
For instance, if we consume fish that has been contaminated with high levels of heavy metals or radioactive materials, we could suffer from cancer or other serious diseases.
Ocean pollution may also lead to significant visual pollution. Many of our beaches are already covered with loads of plastic and other waste. Since people usually prefer clean beaches to spend their vacation on, this visual pollution may significantly lower the experience for tourists as well as the quality of life for locals.
Drop in tourism
Tourism may also greatly suffer due to ocean pollution. Many tourists will simply refrain from spending their vacation in polluted areas. They will rather choose destinations where they have a nice clean environment instead of a contaminated beach.
Moreover, if the water quality is quite bad in some countries, tourists may also not want to spend their vacation there since they may fear to suffer from diseases due to this bad water conditions.
Decrease in fish populations
In some areas, marine pollution may significantly lower fish populations. Fishes are often quite sensitive to their natural living conditions. If some coastal areas become too contaminated, these fishes will likely try to move to other locations with cleaner water. This in turn implies a decrease in local fish populations.
Loss of livelihood for locals
The drop in fish populations in conjunction with a decrease in tourism may lead to the loss of livelihood of locals in the contaminated areas. Fishing and tourism are two of the most important sources of income for many people worldwide.
If they lose both of these income sources, they may no longer be able to earn enough money to provide food and other basic things for their families and may therefore be forced to move and give up their homes.
Solutions for Ocean Pollution
- Global collaboration regarding ocean protection
- Higher local regulatory standards
- Higher fines for illegal ocean dumping
- More sophisticated controls
- Improvement of knowledge
- Adjustment in consumption behavior
- Avoidance of waste
- Raise awareness
- Convince family and friends
Global collaboration regarding ocean protection
In order to be able to mitigate the problem of ocean pollution, it is crucial that countries all over the world work together. There should be strict worldwide treaties which that include measures to significantly reduce marine pollution. There should also be treaties that should try to stop environmental dumping.
Countries all over the world should try to deal with their garbage themselves instead of shipping it to poor developing countries. By forbidding environmental dumping, the waste-receiving countries could be relieved from enormous amounts of waste and therefore also ocean pollution could be mitigated.
Higher local regulatory standards
In some countries, regulatory standards regarding waste disposal practices are still quite low and set up in an ineffective manner. For these countries, it is crucial that governments set stricter rules regarding waste management practices. By doing so, less waste will be dumped into our oceans and marine pollution can be fought through those regulations.
Higher fines for illegal ocean dumping
Since companies use act profit-maximizing, it is crucial to set proper incentives in order to reduce ocean pollution. For instance, this could mean to introduce higher fines for illegal dumping.
By doing so, companies that are currently disposing of their trash in nature instead of disposing it on official landfills may be more willing to comply with local laws in the future since they have to fear high fines if they don’t.
More sophisticated controls
It is also crucial that in conjunction with higher fines for illegal dumping, also the control mechanisms regarding illegal ocean dumping should be enhanced.
High fines alone will not be enough to set an incentive for firms to avoid marine pollution if they do not have to fear to get caught and fined.
Therefore, it is crucial to increase the quality and quantity of controls in order to be able to prevent ocean pollution effectively.
Improvement of knowledge
It is crucial to improve the knowledge of employees who work in jobs where they can potentially harm our oceans. For instance, workers on oil platforms have to be shown how to handle certain things properly in order to avoid oil leaks or other issues.
Thus, by doing so, the skill level of workers will increase and the probability of accidents which could in turn pollute the ocean may decrease.
Adjustment in consumption behavior
It is also important that every one of us tries to adjust and reduce his or her consumption behavior. The consumption of material goods is slowly but surely destroying our environment. In our nowadays society, everyone wants to have the hippest clothes and the newest electronics.
This implies in turn that things that are still working are often disposed into the garbage can instead of using it longer. This consumption behavior leads to excessive amounts of waste, which in turn may partially end up in our oceans.
It is therefore crucial that we use our material goods longer and more efficiently to reduce individual waste production.
Avoidance of waste
The production of waste should be greatly reduced in general, not only by individuals but also by industries. Our current levels of global waste production are no longer sustainable since they do not only lead to enormous marine pollution, but also contribute to global warming since part of the waste is burned which implies the emission of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.
Education is key to solve problems. The issue of ocean pollution is no exemption to this rule. We have to show our children how our consumption behavior affects the level of marine pollution and how we can reduce waste production and consumption in our daily life to mitigate the problem.
This education should start early in school since school kids are usually more willing to learn and adjust their behavior than adults. Moreover, these children may also convince their parents that it is a good idea to reduce waste production, which may multiply the positive impact of this education.
It is crucial that we also raise awareness of the general public on the issue of ocean pollution.
This could mean that when you see people using disposable plastic cups at work, you can point out that it would be much better to use reusable cups instead in order to reduce waste production and in turn reduce marine pollution.
By doing so, you can multiply your positive effect since the people you convinced may also further convince other people to behave in a more environmentally-friendly manner.
Convince family and friends
The people that are closest to you will commonly be the easiest to influence. Therefore, it is crucial that you also try to convince your family and friends that it is a good idea to consume less and to reduce waste production in order to mitigate the issue of ocean pollution.
By doing so, your family members and friends may be more willing to adjust their behavior to act more ecologically-friendly.
Ocean pollution is a serious environmental problem that we have to fight in a strict manner. Our oceans are ecosystems that are habitats for countless animals and plant species.
If we continue to pollute our oceans, we risk losing many of these species, which in turn may have also significant negative effects on humanity.
Thus, it is crucial that everyone of us makes his or her contribution to reduce waste production and therefore to reduce the issue of marine pollution.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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