This sample essay, written by an Ultius professional writer, is designed to educate readers about the concerns of marine pollution and how it affects us all. When marine life is exposed to concentrated pollution, there are a number of negative impacts; including the deoxygenation of ocean water, serious health effects for marine animals like infertility, and the death of a large number of plants and animals. Recognizing these impacts through research is important, yet many find this a daunting task. This type of paper might be found in a scientific journal, a public policy argument, or as an essay assignment.
Causes of marine pollution
Despite their vast size, oceans have been greatly affected over the past few decades by an excess of human activities that have devastatingly impacted marine environments. Marine pollution is the spread of harmful substances like waste, chemical particles, oil, and plastic into the earth’s oceans (Rinkesh). These waters are home to a large variety of plant and animal species, all of which are at risk due to the marine pollution.
Sewage pollution creates poisons in the ocean
One major cause of marine pollution is sewage. Eighty percent of the urban sewage is dumped into the Mediterranean Sea. Pollution is untreated, releasing tons of damaging chemicals into the water (“Marine Problems- Pollution”). It enters the ocean directly when sewage flows from rivers or drainages directly into the ocean. Once there, the sewage breaks down and the chemical compounds are released into the ocean ecosystem, reducing the oxygen level of the water, causing plant life to decay and die, and decrease the overall quality of the sea water in general (Rinkesh).
The reduction in oxygen affects the well-being of all the living things in the ocean, as every living thing needs oxygen to survive. When plant life dies off, the animals that used those plants as a food source can begin to suffer. On the other hand, sewage waste could be processed into biodiesel fuel and eliminate the need for dumping.
Commercial chemicals harmful to marine biology
Another cause of marine pollution is toxic chemicals from businesses and industries. Almost every marine organism ranging from plankton to polar bears has been contaminated with such man-made chemicals (“Marine Problems- Pollution”). Agricultural and industrial waste are the most common forms of waste that are poured directly into oceans and causing massive amounts of pollution. The 2015 Fukushima disaster in Japan is one of the most recent examples of commercial contamination of marine life.
The materials that make it to the oceans are typically hazardous material that threatens the health of animals and plants alike. These compounds can also cause the water temperature to rise through an effect known as thermal pollution. Often dangerous because the temperature of these materials is already very high. The plants and animals that live there cannot survive the drastic rise in temperature and eventually being to die. Many of those species are food sources for other, larger species, causing those populations to suffer as well.
Oceans have been used for a dumping ground for waste for centuries and until the 1970s, dumping chemical waste like chemicals, pesticides, and radioactive waste into the sea was seen as perfectly acceptable. Dumping toxic waste materials into ocean waters was banned in 1972 by the London Dumping Convention, which was amended later in 1996 to place further restrictions on what is able to be dumped into the sea (“Marine Problems- Pollution”).
Still, though, there are environmental problems caused by materials that have already been poured into the sea and even the materials that are permitted to be disposed of as such. Chemicals can also make their way into the sea through land-based activities such as fracking. These harmful substances can be released into the air, soil, and water when they are being disposed of, manufactured, or used. They can make their way across long distances by air or water and find their way into ocean waters.
Land runoff pollutes oceans
A third cause of marine pollution is land runoff. Land runoff occurs when soil is flooded with water from melting snow or an excess of rain causes the soil to flow into the ocean. Often, this soil contains hazardous chemicals and contaminants, like pesticides, fertilizers, and petroleum, into the ocean waters (“Marine Pollution”).
The fertilizer can cause eutrophication, or a huge increase of algae blooms that further deplete oxygen levels in the water and suffocate marine animals (“Marine Problems- Pollution”). The soil can also contain waste from animals. The combination of these things creates dead zones within the ocean, which is a decreased level of oxygen that makes it impossible for living things to thrive (Rinkesh).
Oil spills contribute to marine pollution
Oil spills, such as the major spillage in Peru, are another cause of marine pollution, and the most notorious and well-publicized. When oil gets into the ocean, it can last for years in the sea water and is extremely threatening to underwater life. Once an animal swims into an area that has been contaminated with oil, they often suffocate to death (Rinkesh). Oil can enter the oceans in other ways, too. Only twelve percent of oil that makes its way into the ocean comes from oil spills while thirty six percent comes down rivers and drainage systems in waste and runoff (“Marine Problems- Pollution”).
In addition, ships lose thousands of crates of oil every year into the ocean during accidents, storms, or other emergencies. This can cause excessive noise pollution, which is unexpected noise that disrupts the balance of life, excessive algae that overtakes the ocean environment, and ballast water, dirty water discharged by large ships. The ballast water also often contains foreign organisms that can negatively affect the ocean ecosystem.
Ocean Mining also contributes to marine pollution. Oceans can be mined for cobalt, copper, gold, silver, and zinc (Rinkesh). This can cause sulfide deposits more than three thousand meters down into the ocean. Mining the deep sea severely damages the lowest levels of the ocean and can increase the toxicity of the water in the area. The damage from ocean mining is permanent and can cause further pollution from corrosion, leaking, and oil spills (Rinkesh).
Littering hurts marine life
Though some might find it surprising, littering is another major cause of marine pollution. Almost one and a half billion pounds of garbage enter the ocean every year (“Ocean Pollution”). Objects from land can be blown by the wind over far distances and deposited into the ocean. These harmful materials can be anything from sand and dust to trash and debris.
Most trash and debris, and especially plastic bottles, is unable to decompose in the ocean and remains there for years. Animals have the potential to mistake the materials for food or become stuck in the material, both of which can kill them (“Marine Pollution”). The most common victims of this kind of pollution are crabs, crocodiles, dolphins, fish, sea birds, sharks, and turtles (Rinkesh).
Effects of marine pollution
There are several devastating effects of marine pollution. Despite extensive research and many dissertations written on the subject, we are still finding new harmful effects. One of which is the effects of toxic waste on the plant and animal life within the ocean. Foreign chemicals can make their way into the oceans through many kids of marine pollution, like oil spills, runoff, and sewage. These chemicals have been proven to cause cancer in marine life, contributes to a decline in their ability to reproduce, significant behavioral changes, and even death (Rinkesh).
Another way toxic oil spills can negatively affect animal life is that when the oil gets into the gills of fish or the feathers of sea birds, it inhibits the animals’ ability to move and hide from prey, find food for themselves, or feed and protect their children. The oil can also cause irritation of the skin and eyes and cause problems in the liver and lungs. Smaller organisms near the bottom of the food chain can absorb these chemicals, which accumulate in their body tissue because they do not break down easily (“Marine Problems- Pollution”).
These organisms are then consumed by small animals that already have these chemicals in their bodies by absorbing them through the water they live in. These small animals, now with higher concentrations of chemicals, are then eaten by larger animals, and the concentration of chemicals within each animal increases the higher they are on the food chain. Because of this kind of transference, animals like polar bears, who sit high up on the food chain, have contamination levels that are three billion times higher than the water they swim in (“Marine Problems- Pollution”).
Humans consume marine animals like fish and consume these chemicals as well. Both animals and humans can suffer terrible health problems from consuming these materials such as behavioral problems, cancer, immune system damage, and loss of fertility. Even the triathlon swimmers in the upcoming 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro are expressing concern over competing in unsafe conditions.
Coral reefs affected through pollution
Marine pollution can also drastically disrupt the cycle of coral reefs. When oil spills float on the ocean’s surface, they can prevent sunlight from reaching marine plants. This affects their ability to perform photosynthesis, the process in which plants use the sunlight to make food to sustain themselves. When this happens, plants die, affecting the animals that use those plants for food and shelter (McDermott). Oil can also clog the gills of the fish that live on the reef, which kills them and disrupts the balance of the ecosystem there.
Ocean and land oxygen levels lowering
A third negative effect of marine pollution is that is can deplete the oxygen levels in the water. Oxygen in water has been dissolved and is therefore less potent than oxygen above the ocean’s surface. Ocean deoxygenation is when the water in the ocean loses significant amounts of oxygen (“Ocean Deoxygenation”).
The vast majority of debris that finds its way into the ocean is unable to decompose for many years (Rinkesh). They use up oxygen as they slowly break down, bringing down the oxygen levels of the water. This makes it difficult for animals like dolphins, whales, turtles, and sharks to survive. Furthermore, a lack of oxygen in the water prevents marine plants from performing photosynthesis. This causes the plants to die and negatively affects the animals that use those plants as a food source.
Effects of marine pollution on species reproduction
Another negative effect of ocean pollution is that it can cause the failure in the reproductive system of marine animals. Unlike other disasters that occur somewhat naturally in marine life, such as the devastating Red Tide of algae that took place amidst a slew of other extreme weather conditions of 2014, waste from agricultural and industrial sources contains an array of hazardous chemicals that can be poisonous to marine life for extended periods of time.
The chemicals from pesticides and other toxins accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals and cause the failure of their reproductive systems (Rinkesh). If the animals are unable to reproduce, their populations fall and suffer. A study done in 2008 aimed to study the effects of marine pollution on the sperm count of male invertebrates. Male leeches were taken from a site that had been exposed to high amounts of pollution and from two other sites without high pollution exposure to serve as control groups.
The researchers found that the males from high pollution areas had a twenty percent lower sperm count compared to the males who had not been exposed to higher amounts of pollution (Yang, Kille, and Ford). It was also found that the areas with more exposure resulted in thirty percent of the population displaying intersex characteristics compared to an average of less than twelve percent in the populations with lower exposure (Yang et al.).
These results indicate that marine pollution certainly does have a negative effect on the sperm count and fertility of the animals that are exposed to it. This is particularly troubling, considering how many animals live in waters that are contaminated with such harmful substances.
Marine pollution is an ever-growing problem that has many detrimental effects on the plants and animals that reside in the ocean. When one plant or animal species is affected, every other species within that ecosystem is somehow impacted in turn, causing huge disruptions in the ocean environment. Every year, marine pollution is responsible for the deaths of more than one million seabirds and one hundred thousand sea mammals (Rinkesh). The negative impacts of marine pollution, including the loss of fertility in animals, the deoxygenation of ocean waters, and the death of countless marine plants and animals, are daunting and should be taken seriously before more damage can be done. These far reaching effects are one of the most critical reasons that we must continue conducting studies and writing research papers to keep voters and consumers informed.
“Marine Problems: Pollution.” World Wildlife Fund. WWF, 2016. Web. 31 May 2016. http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/blue_planet/problems/pollution/.
“Marine Pollution.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 2013. Web. 31 May 2016.http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/explore/pristine-seas/.
McDermott, Annette. “Effects of Ocean Pollution on Marine Life.” Green Living. LoveToKnow Corp, 2006. Web. 31 May 2016. http://greenliving.lovetoknow.com/Effects_of_Ocean_Pollution_on_Marine_Life.
“Ocean Pollution.” NOAA Education Resources. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, n.d. Web. 31 May 2016. http://www.education.noaa.gov/Ocean_and_Coasts/Ocean_Pollution.html.
“Oxygen Deoxygenation.” OSIP. OSIP, 2016. Web. 31 May 2016. http://www.oceanscientists.org/index.php/topics/ocean-deoxygenation.
Rinkesh, A. “What is Ocean Pollution?” Conserve, Energy, Future. CEF, 2009. Web. 31 May 2016. http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-and-effects-of-ocean-pollution.php.
Yang, G., Kille, P., and Ford, A.T. “Infertility in a marine crustacean: have we been ignoring pollution impacts on male invertebrates?” Aquat Toxicol, 88, 1. (2008): 81-87. Web. 31 May 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18440080.