Ocean Pollution And Marine Debris - The Green Doctrine

Ocean Pollution And Marine Debris


Oceans, which make up 70% of our planet's surface, are crucial to the well-being of both our world and its inhabitants. Unfortunately, there is pollution in our oceans. Research shows that billions of pounds of trash and other contaminants find their way into our oceans every year. 

For the welfare of people and the health of ecosystems, the cumulative effects of ocean pollution can be disastrous. They may ultimately impede long-term economic expansion.

In this article, I am going to give insight into what ocean pollution and marine debris are, the negative impacts of ocean pollution, and what we can do to minimize the impacts.

What Are Ocean Pollution and Marine Debris?

Pollution, as we all know, is the release of harmful substances into the environment. Ocean pollution, however, focuses JUST on pollution that occurs in bodies of water.

Ocean pollution occurs when materials utilized or disseminated by humans, such as industrial, agricultural, and residential trash, particles, noise, excess carbon dioxide, or invading creatures, enter the ocean (and other bodies of water) and have a negative impact on it.

The majority (more than 80%) of ocean pollution originates on land and enters the ocean through runoff, rivers, air deposition, and direct discharges. It is the most concentrated along the coasts of low and middle-income countries.

Marine debris, on the other hand, is a form of ocean pollution. It is described as any persistent solid substance that is made or processed and then disposed of or abandoned in any marine environment or aquatic habitat, whether purposefully or unintentionally. Anything manufactured by humans that is solid and becomes lost or discarded in these aquatic habitats can end up as marine debris. 

Our trash has been discovered in every area of our ocean, even the deepest sections of the ocean floor and the most distant shorelines. Worn-out fishing gear and plastic items like cigarette butts, plastic bags, and food wrappers are some of the most prevalent and damaging kinds of marine debris. 

The size of marine debris can also vary widely, from the smallest plastic particles, known as microplastics, which are sometimes too small to be seen with the naked eye, to enormous derelict and abandoned ships, building waste, and domestic appliances that can harm marine environments. 

While some of this debris might ultimately wear out, others are built to last very long. These things might never truly leave the ocean ecosystem once they are there.

An estimated 10 million metric tons of plastic debris are dumped into the ocean every year, and it is a rapidly growing and very visible part of ocean pollution. 

Apart from being ugly, marine debris causes harm to ocean ecosystems, wildlife, and people. It can harm coral reefs, harm species that live on the ocean floor, and entangle or drown marine life. Some marine species that consume tiny plastic fragments suffocate or go hungry.

Apart from marine debris, there are other types of ocean pollutants. Plastic, mercury, oil spills, sewage, fertilizers, and industrial chemicals are all examples of other ocean pollutants. 

Ocean pollution has enormous far-reaching effects. It is pervasive, worsening, and is generally not well controlled, in most countries of the world. Although scientists are only beginning to understand it, ocean pollution requires urgent and immediate action. 

Impacts of ocean pollution on marine life

Over the years, the effects of ocean pollution have been associated with just human health. However, the effects it has on marine life cannot be ignored.

  • Oxygen depletion
  • Excess debris in the ocean uses oxygen to decompose slowly and this reduces the level of oxygen in the ocean. Sharks, penguins, dolphins, and other marine species die due to low oxygen levels in the water.

    Oxygen depletion in seawater is also brought on by excess nitrogen and phosphate. An area of the water may turn into a dead zone where no marine life may survive when there is significant oxygen depletion there.

  • Plastic damage
  • According to research, at least 800 species are negatively affected by marine debris worldwide, and up to 80% of that debris is plastic. Up to 13 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean annually, which is equal to one garbage truckload every minute. 

    Fish, seabirds, sea turtles, and marine mammals can suffocate, starve, or drown when they eat or get tangled in plastic trash. Over 50% of sea turtles in the world have consumed plastic. After doing so, some of them starve because they believe they have eaten enough because their bellies are full. 

    Plastic pollution is so widespread on many beaches that it is reducing turtle reproduction rates by changing the temperature of the sand where incubation takes place. 

    Research shows that a sea turtle's chance of dying increases if it consumes even 14 bits of plastic. Their young are particularly at risk because they tend to consume less selectively than their elders and float with currents, just like plastic.

    Up to a million seabirds per year are killed by plastic garbage. Similar to sea turtles, when seabirds consume plastic, it occupies space in their stomachs and can occasionally result in malnutrition. Numerous seabirds are discovered deceased with this material still in their stomachs.

  • Exposure to pathogens
  • Pollutants in water bodies expose corals more frequently to pathogens, which are any microbes that might cause disease. White pox and black band disease outbreaks, two of the most prevalent coral diseases, have been connected to sewage. 

    Serratia marcescens, a human gut infection, directly causes whitepox, while an increase in macroalgal cover in contaminated waterways is closely linked to black band disease.

  • Eutrophication
  • For marine life, nutrients are critical building blocks. However, excessive nutrient pollution from land-based sources, such as agricultural runoff and sewage, affects the marine environment and results in algal overgrowth, increased phytoplankton shading, coral disease, decreased coral reproductivity, decreased coral skeletal integrity, decreased coral cover, and decreased coral cover and biodiversity. This is known as eutrophication.

  • Endocrine disruptors
  • Chemical contaminants that affect the endocrine system are known as endocrine disruptors. These include compounds created for textile, plastic, home, or agricultural uses as well as hormones that are naturally occurring or artificial.

    Endocrine disruptors that accumulate in fish tissue have been found in recent investigations. They alter fish behavior and tamper with their reproduction. Endocrine disruptors also slow growth rates and the production of egg-sperm bundles in corals.

  • Mercury
  • Mercury is the metal contaminant that poses the greatest threat to marine life. The two main sources of mercury released into the oceans are small-scale gold mining and coal burning. However, it is most commonly caused by coal burning.

    Mercury is released into the atmosphere when coal is burned, where it finally finds its way into the ocean. The scientists pointed out that eating fish tainted with mercury while pregnant can harm the growing brain of the unborn kid, leading to IQ loss and behavioral issues. 

    Impacts of ocean pollution on humans

    The effects of ocean pollution on marine life have a direct impact on humans. This is because we consume seafood and water from the ocean and when they are contaminated by pollutants, consuming them has a direct impact on our health.

    People who eat contaminated fish and shellfish are exposed to toxins from eutrophication. Dementia, amnesia, various neurological problems, and even death, can be brought on by these toxins.

    Also, a variety of things, including consumer goods, food packaging, cleaning supplies, and insecticides, are made with harmful chemicals that eventually wind up in the ocean. Humans are most likely to be exposed to these harmful chemicals by eating contaminated seafood. Numerous adverse health effects in humans, including cancer, endocrine disruption, metabolic disease, immunological dysfunction, and developmental and neurobehavioral abnormalities, have been linked to these substances.

    Mercury is another dangerous pollutant that affects humans. When pregnant mothers are exposed to these pollutants by the consumption of contaminated seafood, they expose their unborn children to this contaminant. This causes harm to their growing brains, lowers IQ, and increases the likelihood that their children will acquire autism, ADHD, and learning difficulties. Mercury exposure in adults raises the risk of dementia and cardiovascular disease. 

    Phthalates, bisphenol A, flame retardants, and perfluorinated chemicals, many of which are released into the ocean from plastic waste, are examples of manufactured chemicals that can interfere with endocrine signaling, decrease male fertility, harm the nervous system, and increase the risk of cancer. 

    Deep wound infections and gastrointestinal conditions are brought on by pathogenic marine microorganisms. There is a considerable chance that Vibrio diseases, including cholera, may become more prevalent and spread to new places as a result of climate change and rising pollution.

    The negative impacts of ocean pollution fall heavily on low-income countries, coastal fishing communities, people on small island nations, indigenous populations, and people in the high Arctic. This is because the oceans provide food for these populations and the health of the oceans determines their ability to survive. Sadly, these groups, for the most part, contribute so little to ocean pollution.

    What can we do to minimize ocean pollution?

  • Minimize your usage of plastics
  • One way to help prevent plastic waste from making its way to the ocean is to reduce the number of plastic products you use in your own home, from plastic bags to food storage. Choose quicker-decomposing materials like glass, metal, or environmentally-friendly bamboo.

  • Avoid products containing microbeads
  • In recent years, tiny plastic particles, "microbeads", have expanded as a significant cause of ocean plastic pollution. Some face scrubs, toothpaste, and body washes include microbeads, which are harmful to hundreds of marine species and easily infiltrate our seas and streams through our sewer systems. 

    Look for "polyethylene" and "polypropylene" on the ingredient lists of your cosmetic product to steer clear of anything that contains plastic microbeads.

  • Properly dispose of plastic and trash
  • One of the simplest strategies to avoid plastics and other recyclable items from ending up in the ocean is properly disposing of your trash. While you are on the beach, take your rubbish home with you instead of disposing of it carelessly. 

  • Avoid chemical fertilizers
  • Even if you live far from the shore, the chemical fertilizer you use on your lawn or in your garden can eventually find its way to the ocean through rivers, rains, and other waterways. Choose natural fertilizers like aged manure, compost, and bone meal to prevent artificial fertilizers from leaching and polluting the ocean.

  • Recycle
  • The benefits recycling adds to our environment can honestly not be overemphasized. Recycling is the act of turning used materials into new ones and keeping garbage out of landfills, gutters, and trash cans where it could be carried to the ocean by wind or water. For a list of recyclables that are acceptable in your area, get in touch with the waste management or recycling facility there.

  • Reduce your energy use
  • Fossil fuels are burned by businesses all over the world to supply houses with electricity, heat, gas, and other luxuries. When these fossil fuels, like oil which is gotten from the ocean, are burned, more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, which causes our oceans to become more polluted. 

    Using less energy each day contributes to a reduction in the number of fossil fuels that are burned. Choose energy-efficient appliances, switch off lights when not in use, consider your car's emissions, and maintain a moderate thermostat setting.

  • Stay informed and educate others
  • Stay informed on the issues concerning ocean pollution, and do your part to educate others about it. Let your loved ones know your concerns and show them how they may contribute to the solution.

  • Organize or participate in a beach cleanup
  • By taking part in or organizing the cleaning of your neighborhood beach or canal, you may aid in the removal of debris from the ocean and the prevention of their arrival there in the first place. One of the most effective and satisfying methods to combat marine debris is to do this. 

    You can just go to the beach or river on your own, with friends, or with your family, and gather plastic debris there. You can also participate in a local organization's cleanup.

  • Legislation against ocean pollution
  • As vital as it is to alter our own actions, doing so is not enough to prevent ocean pollution. We need legislation that controls the production of plastic, enhances waste disposal and holds plastic manufacturers accountable for the pollution they produce. You should also support local, national, and worldwide laws that offer vital answers to lessen ocean pollution. 

    There are several state-level initiatives to introduce extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation, which holds plastic producers and distributors accountable for their products and packaging at the end of their useful lives. The 2021 Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act is one such American effort that aims to address the plastic pollution crisis.

  • Support organizations that are against ocean pollution
  • Many non-profit organizations are striving to reduce and eradicate ocean pollution in different ways. These organizations need as many donations from the public as possible to progress with their work. No matter how little your donation is, it’ll go a long way in helping these organizations.

    Organizations that are fighting against ocean pollution

  • Plastic Soup Foundation
  • Plastic Soup Foundation (PSF) is a ‘single issue’ environmental organization that is concerned with one thing: stopping plastic pollution (including plastic pollution in oceans) at its source. At PSF, their goal is to stop the plastic soup tsunami as soon as possible and if this goal isn’t achieved, future generations will be left with a terrible plastic plague.

    As part of this mission, PSF calls out the industry and government where they fall short. They also focus on the relationship between plastics and human health. Recent work in this field includes campaigns on microplastics and plastic waste's health effects, especially its Plastic Health Summit. 

    Finally, education underlies everything they do, as they believe that children are the future.

  • Algalita
  • When Algalita’s founder, Captain Charles Moore, discovered a massive area of plastic soup floating in the Pacific Ocean, the question wasn’t how it got there - it was how our consumption habits had spiraled so out of control.

    Their mission isn’t to pick trash out of the sea. It is to fundamentally shift people’s way of thinking on land. They empower young people to think critically, demand actions, and be agents for change. When they educate, the next generation responds with solutions. 

    Algalita is creating responsible citizens with the ability to dream big and successfully combat ocean pollution. 

  • 5 Gyres
  • The 5 Gyres Institute is a leader in the global movement against plastic pollution, particularly ocean plastic pollution with more than 10 years of expertise in scientific research and engagement on plastic pollution issues. 

    Since 2009, the team has completed 19 expeditions, bringing more than 300 citizen scientists, corporate executives, brands, and celebrities to the gyres, lakes, and rivers to conduct firsthand research on plastic pollution. 

    Through this research, 5 Gyres continuously engages diverse stakeholders in understanding the science to drive impact as well as conduct community outreach and citizen science to implement data-driven solutions. 

    With over 1,800 Ambassadors in 66 countries, 5 Gyres supports and is supported by community members with information, tools, and connections to help drive local change to fight this global crisis.

  • Oceanic Society
  • Oceanic Society believes that everyone has a role to play in solving the ocean plastic pollution crisis. We work to engage people worldwide in taking concrete steps to reduce ocean plastic pollution, with a focus on engaging U.S. consumers, leveraging the nature tourism industry, and supporting coastal communities. 


    Ocean pollution has been overlooked for so long that it has caused so much harm to aquatic life and even human life. Before its effects get out of hand, now is the time to start paying more attention to your habits and actively working to minimize ocean pollution.




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