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Marine pollution is the contamination of seas and oceans by humans through the direct or indirect introduction of pollutants in the form of energy or substances to the environment. According to the United Nations (UN), such pollution results in deleterious environmental effects such as poor quality of seawater, contamination of seafood, a hindrance to sea activities and reduction in marine utility (Seltenrich, 2015). Due to such disadvantages, it is essential that marine conservation is practiced to mitigate pollution of oceans through preventative measures away from the old ‘dilution’ beliefs that threaten to destabilize marine ecosystems. In this paper, an in-depth research into the evident causes, impacts, and solutions to marine pollution is demonstrated through a review of available literature and statistics on the menace.
Firstly, marine pollution manifests itself through a couple of ways that are directly relatable to the various causes occasioned by human activities. These include the presence of oil spillage, sedimentation, untreated sewage, agricultural runoff, solid waste, biological toxins, energy, metals and radioactive materials. Such materials when introduced into an ocean act as pollutants that threaten marine life through altering marine ecosystems which serve to disenfranchise not only the vast marine biodiversity but also humans and other life on land (Walker & Livingstone, 2013).
For instance, thousands of oil spills across the numerous offshore drilling sites are responsible for the addition of toxic chemicals to marine waters as well as the death of marine flora and fauna. Additionally, oil is a significant contributor to the greenhouse gas levels around the globe which is heavily relatable to the reported rises in ocean level temperatures (Kennish, 2017). The 2010 drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico exemplifies the devastation that can be occasioned by oil spills as well as the toxicity of chemical dispersants used in the cleanup responses. In this way, oil has been characterized as a chief contributor to marine pollution due to its enduring damage to delicate ecosystems.
Also, the threat of continued sedimentation poses a great risk to marine ecosystems especially along the beaches, shores and marine breeding grounds. Such developments have been occasioned by the continued deforestation and increased soil erosion as a result of farming and other human activities. Such developments closely relate to the increasing levels of agricultural chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides and fertilizer being washed into marine waters thus affecting the quality of seawater.
Additionally, the discharge of untreated sewage into oceans and seas is a major contributor to marine pollution. Water from industries and residential estates is allowed to flow freely into the sea in many countries without first being subjected to standard treatment. Such measures have subjected many portions of marine ecosystems to irreversible damage hence creating ‘dead zones’. In these zones, no animal or plant life can be supported unless radicle remedies are undertaken.
Moreover, the rampant dumping of plastic waste and trash is a major contributor to the state of marine pollution in the world. According to reports under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the northeastern coast of the United States has an average plastics concentration of 46,000 pieces per square mile and the highest danger to the American marine life is non-biodegradable plastics. This is the reason why many international environmental conventions have centered on the threat of solid waste dumping as a threat to marine environments (Vegter et al., 2014).
Other causes of marine pollution include the effects of noise, biological toxins, and dumping of metals and radioactive materials. Whereas noise due to marine transport and shipping affects the behavior and life of marine life, biological toxins lead to the death of plants and animals in the food chain through contamination of seafood. Heavy metals and radioactive materials, on the other hand, reduce the quality of sea water as well as entering the food chain thus affecting not only the oceanic flora and fauna but also humans and other organisms in the surrounding ecosystems (Vernberg & Vernberg, 2013).
The impacts of such pollution are vast and greatly detrimental. In this way, the various contributing sources of pollution bring forth different effects to marine environments. Such impacts span destruction of marine life, pollution of water quality, modification of marine environment and various effects on human health and comfort. These are the negative effects that prompt national governments and international stakeholders to lead wide-ranging efforts against pollution of seas and oceans.
Among the major impacts of marine pollution is the irreversible destruction of marine biodiversity. An estimated 100,000 mammals and two million birds die annually due to marine pollution. There is also a high decrease in fisheries resources in the United States with a recorded decrease from 11.9 thousand tons in 1960 to 7.7 thousand tons in 1997. Such destruction leads to loss of seafood, decreased tourism earnings, as well as losses of potentially lifesaving, medical marine biodiversity. Such effects are caused by oil spillages, solid waste dumping, noise, ocean acidification and toxic chemicals from agricultural runoffs and sewage (Gerlach, 2013).
Whereas oil spillages result in the extensive death of birds due to damages to feathers, solid waste dumping of plastics limits the light reaching the waters as well as blocking the internal organs of animals when ingested. This has contributed to the death of many sea turtles which confuse plastics for jellyfish. On the other hand, sea noise due to high shipping traffic affects the life patterns such as hunting and mating which have been associated with the declining population of sea animals. Sea plants are also affected by the increased acidity of ocean waters as a result of increased carbon dioxide levels as well as increased toxicity from sewage and agricultural runoffs which is closely related to the development of toxic algae and unfavorable marine environments (Gerlach, 2013).
On humans, marine pollution is highly unfavorable in many ways. Not only does it compromise health through contamination of seafood and seawater but also it leads to a decline in economic utility of marine resources such as beaches and seawater. For instance, littered beaches are unfavorable for leisure sports and eco-tourism which lowers income from such natural resources. Also, a reduction of seafood results in the decline of profits from the fishing industry. For example, non-biodegradable plastics have contributed to the occurrence of vast dead zones across the world seas and oceans leading to a considerable decline in the economic values of such marine resources (Rabotyagov et al., 2014). Such demerits are major as a result of plastics’ dumping, toxically contaminated seawater, increased acidity of ocean water and inadequate conservatory efforts.
Therefore it is essential that remedial measures be undertaken to prevent marine pollution that threatens the marine life as well as the welfare of humans. Such control measures include reduction of toxic discharges to seas and oceans, rigorous campaigns against marine pollution, conduction of beach and offshore cleanups and control of plastics dumping on marine environments and other waterways. Additionally, the prevention of major catastrophes such as major oil spillages and chemical discharges from factories to oceans is a critical strategy towards effective management of marine pollution.
Moreover, the regulation of carbon emissions, noise in marine waterways, and offshore drilling through legislation is crucial in ensuring that the marine environment remains conducive for both plants and animals. Such regulation helps to prevent the rampant ocean acidification, frequent oil spillages and support for marine life. In this way, the worsening survival rates of sea animals such as oysters, corals and mussels is remedied through reduced threat of high water acidity. Such protection not only ensures survival of such species but also the associated industries such as the shellfish trade. Also, the disturbances in marine acoustic landscape caused by marine vessels and oil exploration have been studied to be highly disturbing to the feeding and mating routines of sea animals such as dolphins and whales especially where sound waves are a primary mode of communication in navigation, finding mates and food (Gerlach, 2013).
In conclusion, marine pollution is a growing concern across the globe due to the accelerated human contribution to the menace as a result of industrialization, commerce and environmental insensitivity. The dwindling marine life and resources are a direct impact of the pollution and an explicit indicator of the scale of destruction that has been meted on the marine environment. Therefore it is paramount that humans initiate intervention through control and conservatory measures that seek to restore and reclaim marine resources and ecosystems against pollution. In this way, the extinction of some marine species and depletion of resources can be averted.
Gerlach, S. A. (2013). Marine pollution: Diagnosis and therapy. Springer Science & Business Media.
Kennish, M. J. (2017). Practical handbook of estuarine and marine pollution. CRC press.
Rabotyagov, S. S., Kling, C. L., Gassman, P. W., Rabalais, N. N., & Turner, R. E. (2014). The economics of dead zones: Causes, impacts, policy challenges, and a model of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone. Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, 8(1), 58-79.
Seltenrich, N. (2015). New link in the food chain? Marine plastic pollution and seafood safety. Environmental Health Perspectives, 123(2), 34.
Vegter, A. C., Barletta, M., Beck, C., Borrero, J., Burton, H., Campbell, M. L., & Gilardi, K. V. (2014). Global research priorities to mitigate plastic pollution impacts on marine wildlife. Endangered Species Research, 25(3), 225-247.
Vernberg, F. J., & Vernberg, W. B. (2013). Pollution and physiology of marine organisms. Elsevier.
Walker, C. H., & Livingstone, D. R. (2013). Persistent pollutants in marine ecosystems. Elsevier.
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