By Brianna Berube
Acidification, trash build up, ocean noise and offshore drilling are all forms of man-made pollution that disrupts the oceans natural balance and affects both marine and human life. The environment pays a huge price just for our ‘fashion’. Textile industries contaminate waterways with dye and waste, washing synthetic clothing releases plastic microfibers into the sea, growing enough cotton for a single shirt uses 700 gallons of water. Due to human activities, the ocean and its inhabitants suffer greatly (Dilevics, 2016; Denchak, 2018).
The ocean absorbs about a quarter of all man-made carbon emissions, thus changing the pH level of the surface; this is called acidification. The acidic water can severely affect marine wildlife, for example, the acidity decreases calcium carbonate levels, but reefs and shellfish need that component to build their skeletons or shells (Denchak, 2018).
Trash build up has become a major issue in marine pollution. It’s predicted that by year 2050, there will be more plastic in the sea than fish (currently there is 1 pound of plastic per 3 pounds of fish). That’s because we are rapidly dumping out garbage into the ocean, and most of it is plastic. Eight million metric tons of recyclable trash gets dumped into the ocean every year; and it doesn’t biodegrade. It can stay in the environment for a whole millennium, polluting ecosystems and being consumed by marine life (Denchak, 2018).
Pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, detergent, oil, sewage, plastics and other solids are common man-made pollutants that reach the ocean. They then settle in the depths of the ocean, absorbing toxins. Later small marine species consume the toxins, mistaking it for food; these marine species often digest toxins through micro plastics. Micro plastics are tiny beads or particles of plastic that was either made that small for cosmetic products (micro-beads), or they are from plastic that has degraded down into smaller pieces. The micro-beads end up in the ocean because they are so small, they just pass through the filtration system and make their way to the ocean. Once marine life consumes the pollutants, they are introduced to the food chain (National Geographic, 2010; NOAA, 2018).
Ocean noise is another source of marine pollution and most people do not realize just how bad it can be. Sound waves travel faster and further in water than they do in regular air, which can severely affect marine life. ‘’ The increased presence of loud or persistent sounds from ships, sonar devices, oil rigs, and even from natural sources like earthquakes can disrupt the migration, communication, hunting, and reproduction patterns of many marine animals, particularly aquatic mammals’’ (National Geographic, 2010). Marine animals, like dolphins and whales rely on communication by sound to find food, a mate and to navigate, but human-made noise pollution disrupts their daily lives. The sound waves alter underwater acoustic landscapes and the amount of noise is only increasing. Noise pollution can harm or even kill marine wildlife. Some military ships are equipped with high-powered air guns that fire compressed air into the sea, traveling 2,500 miles; the seismic blasts disrupt foraging, mating and other vital behaviors of marine life. High-intensity sonar shrinks the sensory range of marine life and had been linked to mass whale standings (Denchak, 2018).
Yes, humans are the main cause for marine crisis, but there are also a few biological pollutants that can greatly affect marine wildlife and ecosystems. Biological pollutants are living organisms that appear in great amounts or unusual places. Pathogens and microbes are naturally a part of ecosystems, but they can also cause illness. Organisms that group up in an area where they are foreign can alter the ecosystem, making them a sort of pollutant; a biological pollutant (Desonie, 2008).
A biological pollutant that is often caused by human activity is an algae bloom. An algae bloom is when pollutants that cause excessive nutrients, such as fertilizers or detergents gets into the ocean environment due to runoff, up-welling, etc. causes increased growth of algae and other aquatic plants. This can severely damage an ecosystem by creating ‘’dead zones’’. The excessive amount of plant growth, especially algae, does two things; eutrophication, the aftermath of this pollutant and it creates toxic chemicals. The algae blooms that create toxic chemicals are typically called ‘HAB’ (harmful algae bloom) or ‘red tides’ due to the red color (can also be white, yellow or brown). These algae blooms can seriously harm or even kill marine wildlife, humans and sea birds through direct contact or through bioaccumulation; though the human illness associated with HABs is rare, it can still be weakening or even fatal. People who come into contact with the contaminated water tend to develop symptoms ranging from an eye irritation, sores, difficulties breathing, nausea, or deficiencies in memory and learning (Desonie, 2008).
Eutrophication is when HABs end and life in that area dies, leftover particles and substances sink to the bottom of the ocean. The sea creatures and plants living down there consume the matter; this creates a huge population explosion of bottom dwellers, thus using increased amounts of oxygen. The algae blooms consume a lot of oxygen as well, but even more damage is done after the fact. Once little to no oxygen is left in that specific area, the water is now hypoxic; meaning nothing can survive due to lack of oxygen (Desonie, 2008).
Marine life is affected the most due to all of this pollution. There has already been a tremendous amount of effects on marine wildlife listed within this rant, such as, the noise pollution disrupting marine mammals that rely on communication through sound waves, acidification decreasing calcium carbonate levels thus, shellfish and reefs have nothing to build up their shells, etc.
About 1.4 billion pounds of garbage is dumped in to the sea every year. Pollution sources, like sewage, oil spills and industrial waste kills over a million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals yearly. Oil spills are a common source of pollution that can be very damaging towards marine life; it suffocates marine creatures and changes ecosystems. The biggest problem is plastic though; there are over five trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Animals can become trapped within plastic, choke on it and ingest it causing starvation. Plastic can also absorb chemicals from other sources of pollution, thus poisoning marine life (Lovell, 2018).
Marine pollution does not just affect sea creature, it affects humans as well. Pollutants found in the water make their way to our waterways and food chain. Many of those pollutants are toxic chemicals like, oil, mercury, lead, pesticides and heavy metals. If exposed to toxins for a long period of time, or even small amounts daily, there can be dangerous health impacts. Health problems include hormonal issues, reproductive issues, and damage to our nervous systems and kidney. Metals turned into bacteria, like mercury, are very toxic; the toxic bacteria is eaten by plankton, then the plankton is eaten by a small fish and so on. That toxic substance makes its way up the food chain till it’s at our plates; this is called bioaccumulation. Mercury exposure alone can cause Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Pollution on beaches can cause reactions/illnesses due to physical contact and ingestion; reactions that may occur include, stomach aches, diarrhea and rashes (Dilevics, 2016).
- Denchak, M. (Jan 2018). Ocean Pollution: The Dirty Facts. Retrieved April 2019 from: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/ocean-pollution-dirty-facts
- Desonie, D. (2008). Our Fragile Planet: Oceans, How We Use the Sea. Chapter Ten: Biological Pollution. Printed in the United States of America, Chelsea House Publishers.
- Dilevics, A. (March 2016). How Ocean Pollution Affects Humans. Retrieved April 2019 from: https://www.planetaid.org/blog/how-ocean-pollution-affects-humans
- Lovell, R. (June 2018) How Ocean Pollution Affects Marine Wildlife. Retrieved April 2019 from: https://news.scubatravel.co.uk/how-ocean-pollution-affects-marine-wildlife.html
- National Geographic. (April 2010). Marine Pollution. Retrieved April 2019 from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/oceans/critical-issues-marine-pollution/
- NOAA. (June 2018). What are Micro Plastics? Retrieved May 2019 from: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html