Causes of Ocean Pollution

Marine Pollution and Its Causes

Over the last few decades, surplus human activities have severely affected the marine life on the Earth’s oceans. Ocean pollution also known as marine pollution, is the spreading of harmful substances such as oil, plastic, industrial and agricultural waste and chemical particles into the ocean. There are various ways by which pollution enters the ocean. Some of them are sewage, toxic chemicals from industries, land runoff, large scale oil spills, ocean mining and littering.

Sewage or polluting substances flow through sewage, rivers, or drainages directly into the ocean. The release of other chemical nutrients into the ocean’s ecosystem leads to reductions in oxygen levels, the decay of plant life, a severe decline in the quality of the sea water itself.

Industrial and agricultural waste are another most common form of wastes that are directly discharged into the oceans, resulting in ocean pollution.

Land runoff is another source of pollution in the ocean. This occurs when water infiltrates the soil to its maximum extent and the excess water from rain, flooding or melting flows over the land and into the ocean.

Ship pollution is a huge source of ocean pollution, the most devastating effect of which is oil spills. Crude oil lasts for years in the sea and is extremely toxic to marine life, often suffocating marine animals to death once it entraps them.

Ocean mining in the deep sea is yet another source of ocean pollution. Ocean mining sites drilling for silver, gold, copper, cobalt and zinc create sulfide deposits up to three and a half thousand meters down in to the ocean.

Pollution from the atmosphere is, believe it or not, a huge source of ocean pollution. These objects can be anything from natural things like dust and sand, to man-made objects such as debris and trash. Most debris, especially plastic debris, cannot decompose and remains suspended in the oceans current for years. Animals can become snagged on the plastic or mistake it for food, slowly killing them over a long period of time.

In addition, the temperature of the ocean is highly affected by carbon dioxide and climate changes, which impacts primarily the ecosystems and fish communities that live in the ocean. In particular, the rising levels of Co2 acidify the ocean in the form of acid rain.


Sewage Popsicles and Water Pollution

We wouldn’t eat these “popsicles” if we were you. Concocted by Hung I-chen, Guo Yi-hui and Cheng Yu-ti, a group of students from National Taiwan University of the Arts, the frozen treats comprise sewage from 100 different locations across the East Asian island nation.

Hung and company froze their samples—bottle caps, plastic wrappers, and all—to illustrate the scope of Taiwan’s water-pollution problem. To preserve their creations, they dipped the popsicles in a polyester resin.

Their frozen creations were then replicated with transparent polyester resin. The replicas are accurate down to the tiniest detail — from the colour of the popsicles, to the detritus found in the samples.

They even designed wrappers for each frozen non-treat based on the locations they sampled from. Unappetizing “flavors” include “Yang-tzu-chou Drainage,” “The Large Ditch in Tianwei,” and “New Huwei Creek.”

Hung said they chose to make the popsicles to illustrate the importance of clean water (Popsicles are, after all, mostly H2O).

“They’re made out of sewage, so basically these things can only be seen, not eaten,” Hung told Mashable. “[Having] pure water, a clean water source is actually very important.” When people look at these popsicles — they may look nice, but they portray a different, scary reality, she adds.

Taiwan often experiences periodic droughts, and its waterways, like most other water sources, have been impacted by trash and human detritus. About 90 percent of the trash the team encountered in the water samples were plastic, including wrappers for bamboo chopsticks, bottle caps, plastic bags and plastic bottles.

The team had to buy a throwaway freezer to make the sewage popsicles, as the project — as you can imagine — smelled pretty bad.

The team has made a visual directory that lists what each popsicle contains. The popsicles attracted a mixed reaction after being showcased at a design event in Taipei. People said thought the concept was cool, but were also simultaneously disgusted when they saw what each popsicle was made of, she said.


Sea of Plastic and Styrofoam

We hear about the issue of ocean plastic a lot, but these new photographs demonstrate just how pervasive the pollution is. Roatán-based photographer Caroline Power shared pictures on Facebook taken near the Caribbean island belonging to Honduras, revealing what she calls a “sea of plastic and Styrofoam”. Power said, “This has to stop.”

Power shared photographs of waves of plastic garbage floating in seaweed in a part of the world we tend to think of as pristine. Pressure group Blue Planet Society said the trash could have come from the Montagua River in Guatemala.

Power seems to have posted in hopes of prompting people to think about their own consumption of single-use plastic. She wrote in the Facebook post, “Think about your daily lives.

How did you take your food to go last time you ate out? How was your last street food served? Chances are it was styrofoam and served with a plastic fork and then put in a plastic bag. Do you still use plastic garbage bags? Plastic soda bottles? Ziplock bags? Plastic wrap on your food? Do you buy toilet paper that comes wrapped in plastic instead of paper? Do you put your fruit and veggies in produce bags at the grocery?”

Power challenged people and businesses to keep their garbage, after sorting out organic and recyclable trash, for a week. She said, “You will be disgusted by how many single-use items you use.”

Every single year, eight million metric tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans. Plastic pollution isn’t just an eyesore; The Independent quoted statistics saying it’s harming over 600 species around the world. Around 100,000 marine animals and more than one million birds perish because of plastic every year. Surely we can do better?


Microplastics in Mussels

Mussels could serve as a global bioindicator for microplastic pollution, as the creatures don’t move and reside on the seabed where plastic ends up. And a new study from the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) uncovered plastic in 76.6 percent of individual blue mussels they tested. 

Reuters pointed to other surveys where researchers found microplastics in mussels near China, Belgium, Britain, Canada, and Chile. NIVA Researcher Amy Lusher told Reuters, “Microplastics have been found in mussels everywhere scientists have looked.”

The new NIVA research found on average 1.8 pieces of microplastic in mollusks near Norway, while and mussels living in waters thought to be pristine in the Arctic actually had the greatest amount of plastic among any of the creatures tested near the Norwegian coast. Lusher said ocean currents and winds from American and Europe may be sweeping plastic north, where it might then swirl in the Arctic Ocean.

Scientists aren’t quite sure how microplastics in marine life will impact humans that consume them, but think you’d have to eat a whole lot of shellfish to be at risk. Microplastics expert and Plymouth University professor Richard Thompson told Reuters of the global discoveries,

“It’s a warning signal that we need to do something about reducing the input of plastic to the ocean. It’s a cause for concern at the moment rather than an alarm story for human consumption.”


Why Five Countries in Asia Spew More Plastic to Ocean?

According to Ocean Conservancy, a US environmental nonprofit, the other 95 percent is submerged beneath, where it strangles underwater creatures and wrecks the aquatic ecosystem. It turns out that five countries are the leading contributors to this crisis. And all are in Asia. In a recent report, Ocean Conservancy claims that China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam are spewing out as much as 60 percent of the plastic waste that enters the world’s seas.

“At this rate, we would expect nearly one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish in our oceans by 2025 — an unthinkable number with drastic economic and environmental consequences,” says Nicholas Mallos, director of Ocean Conservancy’s marine debris program.

Westerners, namely Americans, are seen as the world’s most incorrigible consumers of stuff: soda, gadgets, sneakers and other items that produce plenty of trash. So how did a few Asian countries, many of them comparatively poor, end up churning out much of the plastic waste that swirls through the seas?

Asia is adopting Western-style appetites for consumer junk

As Asian economies rise, people have more cash to blow on Marlboros and Sprites at 7-Eleven. But the junk these habits produce often doesn’t end up in legit landfills. In the five Asian countries listed above, only about 40 percent of garbage is properly collected. Across Asia, trash is often piled up in communal dumps where stray bits are swept up by the wind and cast into the ocean.

Trash scavengers can’t keep up

Asia’s garbage pickers are the unsung heroes of conservation. They brave filth and disease to root through trash and extract plastic that can be sold to recyclers for a little cash. This ensures that lots of junk is recycled rather than abandoned in landfills. That means that scavengers skip over much of the waste, which can later end up in the sea.

Asia’s garbagemen often cut corners

In countries where the law is flimsy, garbage truck drivers will often save time and fuel by simply dumping trash by the roadside. These illegal dump sites are having devastating consequences for the seas. 

As it stands, humans leak a staggering 8 million metric tons of plastic into the ocean each year, according to research published in Science Magazine. If our behavior doesn’t change, Ocean Conservancy says, we’ll double that rate in just 10 years. 

All that garbage is having devastating effects on the seas: choking marine life to death, dramatically warping ecosystems and wreaking environmental havoc that some experts liken to the climate change crisis.


How to Reduce Ocean Plastic Pollution?

Plastic, of course, is uniquely problematic because it’s nonbiodegradable and therefore sticks around for a lot longer (like up to 1,000 years longer) than other forms of trash. And we're not just talking about people dumping their garbage overboard. Around 80 percent of marine litter actually originates on land—either swept in from the coastline or carried to rivers from the streets during heavy rain via storm drains and sewer overflows. So the best thing we can do to protect our waterways is try to keep as much plastic as possible out of the waste stream in the first place. There are many small ways you can have a big impact such as:

1. Reduce Your Use of Single-Use Plastics 
Wherever you live, the easiest and most direct way that you can get started is by reducing your own use of single-use plastics. Single-use plastics include plastic bags, water bottles, straws, cups, utensils, dry cleaning bags, take-out containers, and any other plastic items that are used once and then discarded.

2. Recycle
This should go without saying, but when you use single-use (and other) plastics that can be recycled, always be sure to recycle them. This helps keep them out of the ocean and reduces the amount of “new” plastic in circulation. If you need help finding a place to recycle plastic waste near you, check Earth911’s recycling directory.

3. Participate in a Beach or River Cleanup
Help remove plastics from the ocean and prevent them from getting there in the first place by participating in, or organizing a cleanup of your local beach or waterway. This is one of the most direct and rewarding ways to fight ocean plastic pollution

4. Support Bans 
Many municipalities around the world have enacted bans on single use plastic bags, takeout containers, and bottles. You can support the adoption of such policies in your community. Here is a list of resources for legislative bodies considering limiting the use of plastic bags.

5. Avoid Microbeads
Tiny plastic particles, called “microbeads,” have become a growing source of ocean plastic pollution in recent years. Microbeads are found in some face scrubs, toothpastes, and bodywashes, and they readily enter our oceans and waterways through our sewer systems, and affect hundreds of marine species. Avoid products containing plastic microbeads by looking for “polythelene” and “polypropylene” on the ingredient labels of your cosmetic products (find a list of products containing microbeads here).

These ideas only scratch the surface for ways you can help address the growing problem of plastic pollution in the oceans. The important thing is that we all do something, no matter how small. For more ideas and resources, visit the websites of the organizations listed above.