The oceans have been a dump site for
humans for thousands of years. Every day, hundreds of thousands of pounds of
trash are discharged into the ocean whether it be from private, domestic, industrial
or municipal sources. Much of the trash discarded into the oceans,
such as plastics which account for 90% of all trash in the oceans, are very
harmful to marine life and ocean aesthetics (Rudd, 2008).
Millions of marine animals, including birds which rely heavily on marine
life, are killed as a direct consequence of pollution. Other types of
oceanic pollution such as oil spills and radioactive and industrial waste
are just as costly , and can contaminate the oceans for thousands of years
to come. Dead zones, enormous areas of oxygen deficient water were life
ceases to exist, have increased by one third in the past two years because
of the amount of waste being added to the oceans (Ocean
Planet, 2005). Humans have even started to
change the chemistry of ocean water. This is due to unnaturally high levels
of CO2 in the environment as well as spent CO2 being stored and pumped into the oceans (Science
Daily, 2007). This CO2 dissolves into a hazardous substance that
can hinder the growth of phytoplankton and zooplankton, the base of the food
chain for all marine life (Science Daily, 2007).
The damage we humans have brought to the oceans show how irresponsible our
actions have been and acts as a wake up call on a global level.
If us humans do not change our ways and begin to respect the oceans, they
will be changed irreparably forever.
The ocean has
always been an extremely cheap and easy way
to dispose of waste. It can be done quietly and the waste is
practically untraceable. Many people in the past thought that the oceans
were so enormous that
trash would have little impact on the quality of the oceans, making
dumping legal, but they were horribly mistaken. Millions of pounds of all
types of trash have been legally, and illegally, discarded into the oceans.
Trash, garbage, rubbish, sewage, and different types of industrial and
radioactive waste plague the oceans, leaving even the most remote areas of the
oceans polluted and contaminated. Every day this once pristine
environment becomes more and more degraded, resulting in the death of marine
flora, fauna, and ocean aesthetics. If this abuse towards the ocean is not
controlled, the chemical make up of the ocean will be transformed, killing the
base of the food chain, and ultimately, all marine life. Humans need to
learn to respect the oceans and discard their wastes appropriately if we wish to
preserve the quality and beauty of oceans, seas and beaches.
Some interesting facts about oceanic
Almost 90% of
all floating materials in the ocean are plastic. Plastic is one of the
most harmful pollutants because it does not readily break down in environments (Rudd, 2008).
Marine debris, especially
plastic, kills more than one million seabirds and 100,000 mammals and sea
turtles every year (Leahy, 2004).
Studies done in the North Sea
revealed that fulmars, a type of seagull, averaged thirty pieces of plastic
in their stomachs (Leahy, 2004).
Researchers found that in
the middle of the North Pacific there are six pounds of plastic for every
one pound of algae (Leahy, 2004).
Plastic pellets act as a
magnet for toxic chemicals such as DDT and PCB's creating poison pills for
many animals. Plastics are also responsible for leaching
endocrine-distributing chemicals such as Biphenyl A into the water (MarineBio,
In the 1970's, 17 million tons of industrial waste
were legally dumped in the oceans. In the 1980's, this number was
reduced to eight millions pounds of industrial waste, but still contained
acids, alkaline waste, scrap metals and coal ash (MarineBio, 2008).
Saltwater has the
potential to pump pollutants from the ocean into coastal freshwater aquifers,
making wells and other water sources contaminated (Jones, 2003).
Organic pollutants are
much less soluble in saltwater than in freshwater (Jones, 2003).
Between 50 and 60 million
tons of untreated municipal waste is disposed from China's coastal cities
every day (PATP, 2008).
In the past two years the number of "dead zones"
in the oceans have
increased by one third (Ocean Planet, 1995).
300,000 dolphins, whales and porpoises die each year
after becoming entangled in fishing nets (PATP, 2008).
Today, there is an island of trash in the Pacific twice
the size of Texas (GG, 2007).
Oil is consistently deteriorating the quality of the
ocean but only 12% of it comes from tanker oil spills. The rest enters
the oceans through runoff and drains (WWF, 2008).
Fertilizer runoff is a huge problem. The extra nutrients
create eutrophication, a flourishing of algal blooms which depletes the oxygen
content in the water, suffocating marine life (WWF, 2008 ).
Almost every marine organism, from the tiniest
phytoplankton to whales are contaminated with man made chemicals (WWF,
Rubbish, trash, and garbage
Trash is not only being found in the most remote areas of the ocean such as the North Pacific and Arctic
areas, but it also gets washed up on shore ruining beautiful beaches. This
can be observed in Figure 2 and Figure 3. Ocean currents
influence the movement of disposed trash to cluster together in certain
places where the currents form a circular flow of water (Lucus,
2007). These currents can be seen in Figure 4.
Ocean currents also play a roll in how polluted a beach is. The
stronger the currents, the more trashed a beach gets, with respect to
Some places around the world already have way too much pollution in their waterways
to reverse the damage. This is seen in many countries including Asia
and Figure 6. Trash does not only ruin the aesthetic
quality of oceans, coasts, and lakes, but can alter the chemical makeup of a
body of water. Figure 7 shows a damaged body
of water at the mouth of the Mississippi River due to pollution. The brown
area is water containing very little oxygen, and the dark blue area is water
rich oxygen (ENS,
Figure 2. Washed up debris on a beach (WCAS 1998)
Figure 3. Washed up trash on a Californian beach (OCRM 2007)
Figure 4. Ocean currents concentrate rubbish hot spots in
circular red areas (Lucus 2007)
Figure 5. Some Asian rivers are too polluted to navigate
through (GG, 2007)
Figure 6. Another trashed Asian river (GG, 2007)
Figure 7. A dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi River. (ENS,
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Although dumping trash and rubbish into the oceans are
a huge environmental concern, but there is another source of pollution
that has consistently degraded the quality of ocean water and life.
This source is oil. It enters the oceans not only by oil tanker
spills, but from runoff and drains.
Only 12% of all the oil in the oceans come from tanker spills, while the
majority enters the oceans as runoff from automobiles (Ocean Planet, 1995).
Figure 8 shows the consistency of major oil spills over the past
thirty years while Figure 9 shows the distribution of
sources responsible for all oil in the oceans. Figure
10 shows why
some oil companies have little initiative to clean up after an oil spill.
You can see that the penalties of not cleaning up the oil
are only fraction of the cleanup cost (BBNEP,
2004). It is much cheaper and effortless to just pay a fine and
completely disregard the environment. If not cleaned up immediately,
the oil spreads great distances, harming any type of life that comes in
contact with it (Ocean Planet, 1995).
Figure 11 shows a grebe covered with oil after
a tanker spill off the shore of Korea. The oil disables birds,
hindering their ability to
fly or even properly move (IFA, 2008). If not cleaned the
oil is conducive to a certain death due to drowning or starving because they can not feed themselves (IFA,
Figure 8. Major oil spills from 1970-2002 (IFA,
Figure 9. Sources of oil in the oceans (Ocean
Figure 10. Penalties of oil spills VS. cleanup costs (BBNEP,
Figure 11. Oil covered grebe (TDG,
Top of page
Plastics, as you may know from above, account for
almost 90% of all pollution in the oceans (Rudd,
2008). Plastics do not readily break down in the environment
because they are not biodegradable (Leahy, 2004).
Unless removed, plastics will remain in the oceans for
hundreds of years, continuously breaking up into smaller and smaller particles
over time (Leahy, 2004). Plastics are a major
concern not just because of the high production rate and extremely
low recycle rate in the United States (Figure 12), but because it
has the ability to act as a magnet for dangerous chemicals such as
PCB's and DTD creating "toxic pills" floating all over the ocean (Leahy,
2004). Microscopic pieces of plastics are found all over the
ocean, including the insides of plankton, the keystone species of
all marine life. Large plastic materials give off the
appearance of jellyfish or squid to marine life, while smaller
plastic pellets look like fish eggs. Even in the most remote
locations in the North Sea, fulmars, a type of seagull, averaged
thirty pieces of plastic in their stomachs (Leahy, 2004).
This can be seen in Figure 13.
Figure 14 shows the journey of trash through the ocean and how
currents force the trash to accumulates in certain spots known as the trash vortex (TDG, 2007). About 250 billion pounds of plastic pellets are produced
annually around the globe (Leahy, 2004).
Much of this plastic will end up in the oceans, seeing as only 20%
of plastic comes from ships or offshore platforms while the rest is
either blown, washed or dumped into the oceans (Leahy,
2004). In some places such as the North Pacific, there are
six pounds of plastic for every one pound of algae, proving that
plastic takes over marine life (Leahy, 2004).
Figure 12. Long term data of plastic production in the United States
Figure 13. Albatross remains in the North Pacific (Moore,
Figure 14. The journey of Trash throughout the oceans (TDG, 2007)
Other types of oceanic waste
Radioactive waste: This material is very dangerous and stays active for
thousands of years. It is the waste product of nuclear reactors. The dumping of radioactive waste began in 1946 by the
United States, and was continued by fourteen countries over a forty-eight
year period (DRWS, 2001). During this time, eighty dump sites
were used all around the oceans (DRWS, 2001). It is estimated that radioactive
dumping has reached a total of 84,000 terabecquerels (TBq's) (MarineBio,
2008). One of these units are equal to 27.027 curies, while one curie is equal to the radioactivity of one gram of pure radium (MarineBio,
2008). Lets just say there is an incredible amount of dangerous toxic waste that
has been dumped into the oceans and seas. Between 1964 and 1986 there was
over seven thousand tons of solid radioactive waste and sixteen hundred cubic
meters of liquid radioactive waste dumped into the Arctic sea by the Soviet
Union alone (TEDCS, 1997). Sellafield, a nuclear power plant in England, discharges over two million
gallons of radioactive effluent every day into nearby oceans (DRWS, 2001).
This is just one of over four hundred nuclear power plants in the world today (DRWS, 2001).
Although a large amount of radioactive waste is dumped into the ocean with no
protection, the majority of the radioactive waste disposed of in the
oceans are concealed in fifty-five gallon drums. These large drums are
subject to puncture and erosion causing the leaking of the hazardous materials.
especially hazardous because some of the waste remains radioactive for thousands
of years. This
radioactive waste is extremely dangerous to marine flora and fauna. Through biomagnification, the accumulation of hazardous material throughout the trophic
levels, humans have indirectly ingested this radioactive waste, as well as other
Industrial Waste: This type of waste
includes acids, alkaline waste, scrap metals, waste from
fish processing, flue desulphurization, sludge, and coal ash (Marinebio, 2008).
The dumping of sewage sludge was legal in the seventies and eighties, resulting
in over twenty five millions tons (Marinebio, 2008). Heavy metals also fall into this
category. They include lead, cadmium, zinc, copper, mercury and other potentially
toxic elements (DRWS, 2001). These materials can be
transported into the oceans through industrial waste landfills, mining, and
storm runoff (Ocean Planet, 1994). Another major problem caused from
industry is CO2 emissions. One third of all CO2
emissions produced by the burning of fossil fuels is absorbed by the oceans
(Science Daily, 2007). This is said to induce a change is ocean chemistry which
can greatly affect marine flora and fauna. This occurs because when CO2
enters the oceans, it dissolves and becomes carbonic acid which damages coral
reef along with phytoplankton and zooplankton, the most critical players at the
bottom of the world's food chain (Science Daily, 2007).
If this chemical changer were to hinder the growth and production of plankton,
it would hinder the growth and production of all marine life.
Sewage Sludge: This type of material
originates primarily from domestic, industrial and commercial sources (WE, 2007). In
developed countries, these waste are delivered to a septic tank or sewage
treatment facility. Even with these facilities there is a lot of untreated
discharge with ends up in the oceans. Some factors that increase the
amount of untreated discharge are a decayed infrastructure, facility
malfunctions and heavy rainfall (WE, 2007). Even in some developed areas
such as Nova Scotia, Canada, raw sewage is still being discharged into bays,
harbors and coastal waters (WE, 2007). In less developed countries, such as
India where population surpasses the billion mark, sewage is drained into the
oceans at an uncountable rate, affecting all marine life that comes in
contact with the sewage. Another source of sludge pollution in the ocean comes
from the disposal of biosolids, a semisolid byproduct of the sewage treatment
process (WE, 2007). For decades these byproducts were allowed to be dumped into
the ocean. Although today's environmental regulations do not allow these
products to be put in the ocean, many countries still discard this material in
the seas (WE, 2007).
What you can do to help protect the oceans
Although you may not live near the ocean, your trash, rubbish, and garbage
is still transported into
the oceans unless recycled. Anything you use outside
has the potential to end up in the oceans no matter how far away it originates.
There are many ways in which an individual can monitor his or her actions so
waste does not end up in the oceans. There is a lot more to it than just
recycling and putting trash in the proper receptacle. Here are some ways to
reduce pollution from...
Landscaping: The application of pesticides
and fertilizers are a common practice, resulting in large amounts of
runoff into the ocean which can be detrimental to marine life. You should
only apply these products if the area is one hundred feet from the shore, there
is no rain forecast for forty-eight hours, and the winds are under five miles
per hour (WCRD, 2004). Most lawns don't need any
additional phosphorus. When buying fertilizer, look at the three numbers
given, which represent the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium content in that
order. Buy a fertilizer with no phosphorus (#–0–#) keeping in mind it is
harmful and unnecessary. In addition to this, you
should always work the fertilizer into the soil opposed to just putting it
on the surface (WCRD, 2004). It is also important to hand irrigate
after fertilizing as to not overwater, enhancing the runoff potential (WCRD, 2004).
Automobiles: There are many hazardous
fluids incorporated in automobiles such as oil, gas, antifreeze, lubricants, and
grease. Proper cleanup and disposal of these wastes are crucial because
many do not break down readily in the environment. You should always clean
auto parts in a self contained area to prevent runoff into the sewer or storm
drain and use a water based cleaning solution (WCRD, 2004).
You should also check for leaks regularly and avoid using hose-off degreasers (WCRD,
2004). When you do clean your car you should never let the runoff go
into the storm drain or gutter, but instead soak it up with a rag and dispose of
it as hazardous waste (WCRD, 2004). You can also use cat liter to soak up wet spills
such as oil or gasoline (WCRD, 2004). Finally, you should
never mix hazardous wastes as mixing chemicals can be dangerous and always label
substances accordingly (WCRD, 2004).
Household Products: There are many
hazardous waste products used in the home such as paint, batteries, TV's and
computers, wood and metal cleaners, adhesives, et cetera. First and foremost,
never dispose of any household hazardous waste in the streets, gutter or drains.
You should always keep materials closed, in labeled containers, and stored either
indoors or under a covering (WCRD, 2004). You should reuse
products whenever possible, share with others so the product does not go to
waste, or buy just as much as you need (WCRD, 2004).
Securely covering trash cans can also prevent the release of garbage into the
environment and ultimately into the oceans (WCRD, 2004).
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President Bush's Policy
Figure 15. President George W. Bush (WMTU, 2006)
Unlike many other environmental fields,
President George W. Bush (Figure 15) and the Bush
Administration seems to care for the protection of the oceans. The United
States' oceans coasts and Great Lakes are governed by over twenty
Federal agencies administering over 140 Federal laws (U.S.OAP, 2003).
The Bush Administration also has set up the U.S. Ocean Action Plan which
outlines actions that will take place over the next few years to make
our oceans "cleaner, healthier and more productive" (U.S.OAP, 2003).
Some of the goals of the U.S. Ocean Action Plan are...
1. Establish a New Cabinet-Level Committee on Ocean Policy–This committee will address governance principles, filling gaps in legislative
authority, and streamlining unnecessary overlapping authorities (U.S.OAP, 2003).
2. Work with Regional Fisheries Councils to Promote
Greater use of Market based Systems for Fisheries Management– The
committee will continue to support and further support the use access
privileges such as individual fishing quotas (U.S.OAP, 2003).
3. Build a Global Earth Observation Network,
Including Integrated Ocean Observation–
This is aimed at bringing
the International community together to develop an integrated,
comprehensive and sustained global earth observing systems. Preserving
our oceans are a global job (U.S.OAP, 2003).
4. Develop an Ocean Research Priorities Plan
and Implementation Strategy– This will seek
enhanced collaboration, coordination, cooperation, and synergies, and
will identify gaps and deficiencies along with related infrastructure
needs (U.S.OAP, 2003).
Support Accession to the UN Convention
on the Law of the Sea– As a matter
of national security, economic self-interest, and international
leadership, the Bush Administration is strongly committed to U.S.
accession to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (U.S.OAP,
Implement Coral Reef Local Action
Strategies– The President will
request $2.7 million for Coral Reef Local Action Strategies in his FY
2006 budget. The U.S. Coral Reef Task Force and the members of its seven
jurisdictions (Florida, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, the
U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas
Islands) have developed coral reef local action strategies to address key
threats to coral reefs in their jurisdictions. This effort is
a significant step forward in advancing the goal of cooperative
conservation between the Federal, State, Territorial and Commonwealth
governments (U.S.OAP, 2003).
Support a Regional Partnership in the
Gulf of Mexico– Administration
officials will meet with the appropriate regional representatives to
explore partnership opportunities for key priorities in the Gulf of
Mexico. There is a particular emphasis on public health, specifically
on water quality for shellfish beds and beaches in the Gulf of Mexico and
the use of a regional ocean observing system to provide a real-time alert
system for beach and shellfish bed closings (U.S.OAP, 2003).
the Administration’s National Freight Action Agenda–
The President directs the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation
with marine transportation stakeholders, Federal agencies, and State and
local governments, to implement the Administration’s National
Freight Action Agenda. The Administration’s new National Freight Action
Agenda has identified seven high-priority freight initiatives to ensure
that the Nation has a safe, reliable, and efficient freight
transportation system that supports economic growth and international
competitiveness (U.S.OAP, 2003).
Take Action Now
The quality of our oceans
have been dropping at an alarming rate due to the dumping of wastes, and
unnatural activities that take place in the ocean. Attached below are two
letters that will spread knowledge of what can be done to help protect the
oceans. The first letter is about oil transportation and what can be
done to make it much safer for the environment. The second letter condones
the idea of putting CO2 into the ocean, which would irreparably change the
chemistry of the oceans resulting in a major loss of marine life (Science
Daily, 2007). It is
important to give support, share your opinion, and show appreciation to those organizations who
strive to maintain a pristine ocean environment. Below are links to
contact government officials about your opinions concerning oceanic pollution.
Contact your Senator
Contact the House of Representatives
|Instructions: To make a
copy of the prewritten letters: 1) Click on the letter you
wish to send. 2) Fill in the appropriate information. 3)
And either print out and send or save and send as an
attached file with an email. 4) If sending it as an
attached file make sure to write a note explaining the
letter one: Double Hull Tankers
letter two: Ocean CO2Storage
email ExxonMobil through the website Write or email the London Convention through the website
or their mailing address at
or their mailing address at
Exxpose Exxon Campaign
International Maritime Organization
Office of the London Convention 1972
Washington, DC 20003
4 Albert Embankment London SE1 7SR U.K.
Top of page
Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program (BBNEP), 2004. Criminal
Investigation and Settlement. Retrieved on March 13, 2008 from www.buzzardsbay.org/settlement.htm.
Casey, Susan, 2006. Plastic Ocean. Retrieved on March 11,
Dumping of Radioactive Waste at Sea (DRWS), 2001. Geographic and
temporal distribution of disposal operations. Retrieved on April, 22
Environmental News Service (ENS), 2006.
Ocean in Crisis But U.S. Slow to Act. Retrieved on April 3, 2008 from
Global Giving (GG), 2007. Shatter the Fog.
Retrieved on March 11, 2008 from www.shatterthefog.blogspot.com/2007_06_01_archive.
Information For Action (IFA), 2005. Oil
Pollution. Retrieved on April 1, 2008 from
Gigo-Design (GD), 2002. Beach Pollution. Retrieved on
February 5 from http://www.gigo-design.com/karin.
Jones, Nicola, 2003. Sea Water "Pumps" Pollutants Into
Coastal Aquifers. Retrieved on February 5, 2008 from
Leahy, Stephen, 2004. Drowning in an Ocean of Plastic.
Retrieved on February 3 from
Lucus, Caroline, 2007. Hungry For Oil. Retrieved on
February 11 from
MarineBio, 2008. Ocean Dumping Grounds. Retrieved
on February 3 from http://marinebio.org/Oceans/OceanDumping.asp.
Moore, Charles, 2003. Trashed: Across the Pacific Ocean
Plastics, Plastics, Everywhere. Retrieved on February 7, from
Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM), 2007.
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Ocean Planet, 1995. Oil Pollution.
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Ocean Planet, 1994. Side Effects Spread
From Land to Sea. Retrieved on April 28, 2008 from
People and the Planet (PATP), 2008. Retrieved on February 11,
Sound Action Team (PSAT), 2000. Retreived on February 13, 2008 from
Rudd, Justin. 2008. Beach
Trash and Debris. Retrieved on Jan 4, 2008 from
Science Daily, 2007. Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Could Violate EPA Ocean Quality Standards Within Decades. Retrieved on April
29, 2008 from
Summaries of Environmental Laws Administered By EPA (SELABE), 2006. Retrieved on
February 14 from
TED Case Studies (TEDCS), 1997. Arctic Sea Dumping. Retrieved on
April 28, 2008 from
Daily Galaxy (TDG), 2007. The Galaxies Most Popular of 2007. Retrieved on
May 2, 2008 from
The Daily Green (TGD), 2008. A Grebe
After a Korean Oil Spill. Retrieved on May 1, 2008 from
U.S. Ocean Action Plan (U.S.OAP), 2003. The Bush Administration's Response to
the U.S. Commission of Ocean Policy. Retrieved on May 1, 2008 from
Watershed and Coastal Resource Division (WCRD), 2004. Help Prevent Ocean
Pollution: Proper Maintenance Practices For Your Business. Retrieved on
April, 15 from
Water Encyclopedia (WE), 2007. Pollution of the Ocean By Sewage, Nutrients,
and Chemicals. Retrieved on April 29 from
Made This Up (WMTU), 2006. Bush Who. Retrieved on May 4, 2008 from
Wildlife Conservation and Science (WCAS,1998). Saving
Wildlife Retrieved on
January 29, from http://www.wcs.org/.
World Wildlife Federation (WWF), 2008. Problems: Ocean
Pollution. Retrieved on April 3, 2008 from