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 pollution



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 location (MarineBio, 2008).  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 Figure 5 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, 2006).

Figure 2. Washed up debris on a beach  (WCAS 1998)

pounds of trash

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, 2006)



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Crude oil

    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, 2008). 

Figure 8. Major oil spills from 1970-2002 (IFA, 2005)

Figure 9. Sources of oil in the oceans (Ocean Planet, 1995)

Figure 10. Penalties of oil spills VS. cleanup costs (BBNEP, 2004)

Figure 11. Oil covered grebe (TDG, 2008)

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    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).

graph showing annual plastic production growth in US

Figure 12. Long term data of plastic production in the United States (Casey, 2006)

Trashed: Across the Pacific Ocean, Plastics, Plastics, Everywhere CHARLES MOORE / Natural History v.112, n.9, Nov03

Figure 13.  Albatross remains in the North Pacific (Moore, 2003)

Figure 14. The journey of Trash throughout the oceans (TDG, 2007)

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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. This is 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 hazardous materials. 

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 PolicyThis 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).

5. 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, 2003).

6. 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).

7. 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).

8.Implement 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             

 http://www.senate.gov/.                                                                                                                 http://clerk.house.gov/members/index.php


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 attachment.


   Action letter one: Double Hull Tankers                                                             Action letter two: Ocean CO2Storage

Write or email ExxonMobil through the website                                                                            Write or email the London Convention through the website

   http://www.exxposeexxon.com/action/.                                                                                      http://www.imo.org/home.asp?topic_id=1488

or their mailing address at                                                                                                             or their mailing address at

Exxpose Exxon Campaign                                                                                                             International Maritime Organization
             218 D Street, SE                                                                                                                         Office of the London Convention 1972
             Washington, DC 20003                                                                                                                4 Albert Embankment London SE1 7SR U.K.

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Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program (BBNEP), 2004. Criminal Investigation and Settlement.  Retrieved on March 13, 2008 from  www.buzzardsbay.org/settlement.htm.

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Dumping of Radioactive Waste at Sea (DRWS), 2001.  Geographic and temporal distribution of disposal operations.  Retrieved on April, 22 from        http://www.oceansatlas.org/unatlas/about/physicalandchemicalproperties/radiosp/htm/Geographical.html.

Environmental News Service (ENS), 2006. Ocean in Crisis But U.S. Slow to Act.  Retrieved on April 3, 2008 from http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/aug2006/2006-08-07-10.asp.

Global Giving (GG), 2007. Shatter the Fog. Retrieved on March 11, 2008 from www.shatterthefog.blogspot.com/2007_06_01_archive.

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Leahy, Stephen, 2004. Drowning in an Ocean of Plastic. Retrieved on February 3 from http://www.culturechange.org/Petroleum&Plastics.html.

Lucus, Caroline, 2007. Hungry For Oil.  Retrieved on February 11 from  http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/index.html.

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 http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/Ocean/Moore-Trashed-PacificNov03.htm.

Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM), 2007.  Retrieved on January 29, 2008 from http://coastalmanagement.noaa.gov/issues/md_ocrm_act.

Ocean Planet, 1995. Oil Pollution. Retrieved on April 3, 2008 from http://seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov/OCEAN_PLANET/HTML/peril_oil_pollution.html.

Ocean Planet, 1994. Side Effects Spread From Land to Sea. Retrieved on April 28, 2008 from http://seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov/OCEAN_PLANET/HTML/peril_non_point_source.html.

People and the Planet (PATP), 2008. Retrieved on February 11, 2008 from http://www.patp3.webbler.co.uk/doc.php?id=411.

Puget Sound Action Team (PSAT), 2000. Retreived on February 13, 2008 from www.psat.wa.gov/.../State_Sound_Water_toxic7.htm.

Rudd, Justin. 2008. Beach Trash and Debris. Retrieved on Jan 4, 2008 from http://www.beachcleanup.org/trash.html.

Science Daily, 2007. Carbon Dioxide Emissions Could Violate EPA Ocean Quality Standards Within Decades. Retrieved on April 29, 2008 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070919175542.htm.

Summaries of Environmental Laws Administered By EPA (SELABE), 2006. Retrieved on February 14 from http://www.ncseonline.org/nle/crsreports/briefingbooks/laws/f.cfm.

TED Case Studies (TEDCS), 1997.  Arctic Sea Dumping. Retrieved on April 28, 2008 from http://www.american.edu/TED/arctic.htm.

The Daily Galaxy (TDG), 2007. The Galaxies Most Popular of 2007. Retrieved on May 2, 2008 from www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2007/12/.

The Daily Green (TGD), 2008. A Grebe After a Korean Oil Spill. Retrieved on May 1, 2008 from http://www.thedailygreen.com/weird-weather/weather-categories/pollution-pictures/korean-oil-spill-photo-13121407.

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 http://ocean.ceq.gov/actionplan.pdf.

Watershed and Coastal Resource Division (WCRD), 2004. Help Prevent Ocean Pollution: Proper Maintenance Practices For Your Business. Retrieved on April, 15 from                 http://www.ocwatersheds.com/PublicEducation/pe_brochures_biz.asp.   

Water Encyclopedia (WE), 2007. Pollution of the Ocean By Sewage, Nutrients, and Chemicals.  Retrieved on April 29 from http://www.waterencyclopedia.com/Po-Re/Pollution-of-the-Ocean-by-Sewage-Nutrients-and-Chemicals.html.

We Made This Up (WMTU), 2006. Bush Who. Retrieved on May 4, 2008 from www.wemadethisup.com/bushwho.htm.

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 http://www.panda.org/about_wwf/what_we_do/marine/problems/pollution/index.cfm.