Ocean Pollution and Its Consequences
Today, marine pollution has become a global threat. To control and reduce marine pollution will require global initiatives(Avery-Gomm et al.). The marine covers 71% of the earth’s coverage; therefore, marine pollution comes with severe implications to the planet (Issac and Kandasubramanian). Environmental activists and scientists have warned about the growing rate of ocean pollution mainly because aquatic life provides priceless services of balancing the ecosystem. Marine and coastal pollution is mainly related to human activities. This essay will cover ocean pollution, the causes of marine pollution, and the effect of ocean pollution on the ecosystems. Currently, the upswing of industrialization and wide utilization of plastic bags make plastic pollution the most significant type of ocean pollution, and it is a concern in almost all parts of the ocean basins.
Types of Marine Pollution
Marine pollution is of two types, chemical pollution and trash pollution. Chemical pollution occurs when chemicals are deposited into the waterways such as rivers that afterward flow into the oceans. Chemical pollution has become a severe concern mainly because of the increased use of fertilizers (such as nitrogen phosphorus, potassium, N.P.K., and Di-ammonium phosphate D.A.P.). Excess fertilizer s in the farm leads to runoff of chemicals, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, into the ocean.
Marine trash comprises manufactured products, mainly plastics. (Thushari and Senevirathna) noted that over 75% of the plastic pollution is accumulated from land sources, especially from beaches. Plastic wastes are persistent in the ocean because it takes hundreds of years for them to decompose. Scientific research findings show that the tons of plastic that enter the sea in recent years increases by the day. A 2017 research in Australia found that the number and size of plastics litter in the sea today is 25 times larger than the findings of earlier researches (May). Today there are millions of pieces of plastics in the oceans. The Plastics floats, however over time the through mechanical and photochemical processes, plastics break down into smaller pieces (Microplastics) which can sinks into the sea (Issac and Kandasubramanian). The small size of microplastics makes them be easily dispersed by various agents such as winds and waters. According to (May) review, the accumulation of microplastic in the sea is a significant threat to marine life. The varying density of different types of microplastics, polypropylene, and polyethylene, float on the water while polystyrene, polyethylene terephthalate is found deep in the sea, enables the easier distribution of plastics in the sea columns and zones.
Plastic debris is the most challenging environmental pollution in the ocean today, not only because of the smaller particle of plastics that can easily enter the body of an organism but also because plastics surfaces also get contaminated with a range of chemical and trace metals.
Marine pollution is often coming from land-based sources. Ocean pollution is caused by several factors, including, runoff which occurs when polluted water from other water bodies, especially the rivers, enters the ocean. Industrial plants release toxic wastes into marine bodies. Pollutants such as plastic bags and bottles can enter the sea through human disposing or wind carrying them. Oceans provide recreational services; therefore, the beaches are always overpopulated. Plastics and other pollutants used by people around the beach are directly discharged into the sea. A study conducted in the U.K. concluded that vehicle tires also contribute to microplastic pollution in the sea (Issac and Kandasubramanian) since the major component of tires ends up in the ocean.
Consequences/Effects of Marine Pollution on the Ecosystem
Plastics in aquatic bodies have adverse effects on marine species, the environment, and humans. The degree and severity of the impacts of plastic debris on biodiversity have been identified as one of the top threats to the ecosystem. (Issac and Kandasubramanian) Pointed out that almost 700 aquatic species are affected by the presence of microplastic, including fish, sea turtles, and plants. A wide range of marine creatures often accidentally consume microplastics as they take in water and food. In the recent decade, plastic has been found in the stomachs of dead whales (May). That disrupts their psychological function and behavior (Issac and Kandasubramanian). Uptake of microplastics diminishes the urge to eat because it blocks the gastrointestinal tracts and changes sea creatures’ feeding behavior, leading to starvation of some species. Hunger affects growth and development, and it finally leads to death. Additionally, when marine species take in microplastics, it can damage their reproduction and mobility abilities. For instance, plastic intake by oysters reduces egg production and sperm motility, and that affects the fertilization process (Issac and Kandasubramanian).
Plastics surfaces carry some contaminants such as chemicals and metals; therefore, it increases toxicity in the body when ingested. On the other hand, chemical discharges in the sea alter the chemical compositions of the water (pH and density). The water becomes inhabitable for the survival of some sea creatures. Similarly, Plastics in the sea surfaces block sunlight and oxygen levels, consequently changing the water pH and condition. Due to that, the water becomes inhabitable for some sea creatures, which gradually leads to death, extinction, and reduction of biodiversity.
Plastic trash in the oceans can directly or indirectly affect humans. Plastic can injure human beings when swimming in the sea. Additionally, the ingestion of plastics by marine species such as fish has adverse effects on human health. Microplastics are toxic, and once fish ingest them, the plastic chemicals/toxins may be transferred to humans through food chains. Through ingestion of contaminated seafood, the microplastic enters the human gut. Microplastics have been found in the human digestive tract (May). Microplastic can cause adverse effects on human health (Thushari and Senevirathna). Some studies have demonstrated how microplastics increase cancer risk in humans.
Plastic marine trash acts as habitats for aquatic organisms especially, invertebrate species such as bryozoans, sponges, and marine mycobacteria. Colonization of microorganisms happens on the plastic surfaces in the sea. (Thushari and Senevirathna)report that plastics have been found to offer valuable habitat to more than 47 marine microorganisms in Maltese. Additionally, plastic litter that floats on water is used by the microorganisms for transportation from one location to another.
Additionally, microplastics negatively affect the growth and development of some sea plants, such as duckweed. Plastics attach to the surface of the plants hindering growth. Also, plastics can bind noxious contaminants, potentially making them more dangerous to aquatic plants. Toxicity impairs the growth and development of the sea plants, and it makes the water conditions inhabitable for a plant to grow.
The social-economic effect of marine pollution
Plastics pollution in the ocean directly affects the socio-economic of some countries or zones. Plastic litter in the ocean beaches lowers the aesthetic beauty, tourist attraction, and recreational value of the beach. That affects the economy of the coastal areas where tourism is the primary source of economic development. Moreover, the destruction of the marine ecosystem affects tourist/ recreational activities such as sport fishing, swimming, coral watching, etc. That reduces the number of tourists visiting the coastal regions. The coastal regions also rely on fishing as a source of economic value; therefore, when water gets polluted and the sea creature (fish) gets affected, the number of fish decreases. Fish foods contribute to about 50% of animal protein in the world (Thushari and Senevirathna). Depletion of fishery resources affects the fishery sector. Consequently, that affects the economy of some countries, especially island countries.
Cleaning up marine pollution costs a considerable amount of money, which impacts the coastal economy. According to (Avery-Gomm et al.) Investing in plastic pollution mitigation by relocating funds is distracting to tackle more significant environmental issues such as climate change and global warming. Recently, most of the funds have been allocated to managing marine waste rather than climate change and biodiversity loss issues.
Initiatives and Solution to Control and Reduce Marine Pollution
Marine pollution is a global threat; therefore, it requires a global approach to reduce, eliminate and prevent it. Controlling and reducing sea pollution should go beyond cleaning up the sea and recycling. It requires some sustainable changes of behavior and marine policies to control human-related activities that end up polluting the environment. For instance, changing the human approach to plastic utilization is a strategy to reduce marine pollution. Plastics are abundantly used for packing (as shopping bags and water bottles). In recent years, some countries have taken the initiative to ban and limit the usage of disposable plastic bags to address environmental pollution (Issac and Kandasubramanian).
Further, nations and states share a similar resolution of creating awareness of the adverse effect of plastic pollution in the oceans. Awareness helps the government to respond to changes in marine policies. Globally, states and marine policy have concentrated on controlling and reducing marine pollution from land and sea sources. Cleaning up the ocean is a temporary solution to eliminating the plastics in the oceans; however, without behavioral intervention, the disposal of the plastic in the sea will continue.
Some global initiatives to control marine pollution include the United Nations general assembly on ocean and sea laws. The laws provide a framework for addressing plastic pollution, emphasizing marine plastic pollution. Nonetheless, fisheries management organization is often involved in finding a solution to mitigate the accumulation of plastics in the sea. International convention to prevent marine pollution is also a global initiative that focuses on ship activities (Thushari and Senevirathna). However, most of the worldwide initiative focuses on marine waste management which only offers a temporal solution. (Avery-Gomm et al.)proposed that addressing marine plastic pollution will require more than funding marine waste management and consumer solution. It requires global agreements and a collaborative approach of all stakeholders, i.e., the government, the plastic manufacturers, distributes, recyclers, and customers, to control plastic pollution.
Marine life offers essential services in balancing the ecosystem and water resources. Marine pollution is a global threat. Ocean pollution causes adverse effects on the marine ecosystem, human and socio-economic value of the coastal regions. To mitigate sea pollution requires the collaborative efforts of every individual. It is essential to look into the leading causes and sources of sea pollution to establish suitable frameworks to improve the capacity to eliminate ocean pollution. As reported by most of the literature, land-based sources are the primary sources of plastic litters in the oceans; therefore, humans should change the behavioral perspective towards plastic utilization.
Avery-Gomm, Stephanie, et al. “There Is Nothing Convenient about Plastic Pollution. Rejoinder to Stafford and Jones ‘Viewpoint – Ocean Plastic Pollution: A Convenient but Distracting Truth?’” Marine Policy, vol. 106, May 2019, p. 103552. DOI.org (Crossref), https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103552.
Issac, Merlin N., and Balasubramanian Kandasubramanian. “Effect of Microplastics in Water and Aquatic Systems.” Environmental Science and Pollution Research, vol. 28, no. 16, Mar. 2021, pp. 19544–62. link.springer.com, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-021-13184-2.
May, Tiffany. Hidden Beneath the Ocean’s Surface, Nearly 16 Million Tons of Microplastic. 7 Oct. 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/07/world/australia/microplastics-ocean-floor.html.
Thushari, G. G. N., and J. D. M. Senevirathna. “Plastic Pollution in the Marine Environment.” Heliyon, vol. 6, no. 8, Aug. 2020, p. e04709. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2020.e04709.