Marine pollution is caused when potentially harmful substances enter the ocean. Billions of pounds of trash and other pollutants enter the ocean each year. So where does this pollution come from? What kinds of consequences does it have? Most of the pollutants entering the ocean are coming from human activities happening on land.

Pollution of the world’s oceans can take many different forms. Some debris gets washed in with the waves and ends up on our beaches. Some of it sinks. Some of it is eaten by marine animals that mistake it for food, and some of it accumulates in ocean gyres.

Among the many serious consequences of ocean pollution are coral bleaching, dead zones, and algae blooms. By educating ourselves on the types of ways humans are contributing to ocean pollution, we can take action to protect our world’s precious marine habitats.

1. Plastic and Garbage

  • Garbage and plastic debris (including single-use straws, bags, cutlery, water bottles, six-pack rings, and more) is a serious threat to the survival of marine fauna who can die by entanglement, ingestion, and suffocation. Estimates indicate that the amount of plastic currently in the oceans could be as high as 100,000,000 million tons. Because other pollutants (from garbage, for example) tend to accumulate on the surface of plastic debris and make their way into our food chain, human health can also experience some negative consequences

2. Chemical Pollution from Agriculture, Aquaculture, and Oil Seepage

  • Common man-made pollutants that reach the ocean include pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, detergents, oil, industrial chemicals, and sewage. Many nitrogen-rich fertilizers and pesticides applied by farmers run off into the ocean through rivers after a rainstorm. Similarly, the aquaculture industry releases uneaten food, antibiotics, and parasites from fish farms into nearby waters
  • Oil makes its way into our oceans in many ways. Oil seepage occurs on a smaller but continuous level, from oil leaks from cars and machines on the roads which are washed by rain into drains. Additionally, oil can end up in our oceans through the shipping industry, leaching from factories, and the occasional (but always devastating) oil spills. Regardless of how it arrives in our oceans, it’s extremely harmful to marine life

3. Sewage

  • Sometimes our sewer and septic systems don’t operate properly or do not remove enough nitrogen and phosphorus before discharging our gray water into the waterway. Human wastewater and household articles (i.e. soaps and detergents) are also often washed directly into the ocean from coastal communities
  • Sewage is one of the main sources of nutrient pollution, which is an increase in nutrients (especially nitrogen and phosphorus) that causes eutrophication and lack of oxygen, resulting in dead zones in oceans

4. Sunscreen and Other Topicals 

  • Products applied directly onto the human skin, such as body lotion, sunscreen, deodorant, insect repellents, essential oils, hair products, and makeup can all make their way into the water when somebody using one of these products enters the ocean. Such substances negatively affect algae, sea urchins, fish, and mammals in the ocean as well as coral reefs

5. Carbon Dioxide

  • As you may know, carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned. When we burn fossil fuels, we don’t pollute just the air but the oceans, too. Our oceans are becoming more acidic as the atmospheric concentration of CO2 gas increases since carbon dioxide dissolves into the water. This change in the pH of ocean water can have disastrous effects on corals and shellfish

6. Eutrophication

  • Eutrophication occurs when the concentration of chemical nutrients increases in a body of water. This increase can lead to excessive growth of plants and their subsequent decay, as well as dissolve oxygen and induce the death of marine fauna. Essentially, eutrophication creates areas (commonly known as “dead zones”) that can’t support ocean life. One of the biggest concerns associated with eutrophication is nutrient pollution that comes out with freshwater and into the ocean through run-off from municipal and industrial wastewater treatment plants and industrial-scale agricultural farms

7. Industrial Waste

  • Industrial waste is a big issue when it comes to ocean dumping. Dangerous toxins that accumulate include radioactive waste, arsenic, lead, fluoride, cyanide, and many other high contaminants. This waste infects the water and sea life…including the ones that we humans eat!

8. Noise Pollution

  • You may have not considered sound to be a type of pollution. But since many species in the marine world rely heavily on their sense of hearing, noise can create confusion in the marine world by interfering with the acoustic information on which these species rely for their survival. Human activities often introduce unnecessary noise in the marine ecosystem, which can be generated by passing ships, seismic surveys, sonar, oil exploration surveys, and so on

Just like land or air pollution, ocean pollution can lead to terrible ramifications. Now that you’ve acquired some knowledge about ocean pollution, you’re ready to help make a positive change to help preserve our world’s oceans. Along with individual action, it takes communities, companies, and industries to make a significant difference and influence those around them to be more aware of how their wasteful actions affect the ocean.

Environmental protection is of utmost importance at Kiwi Energy. That’s why, for each new customer who signs up for our eco-conscious energy and natural gas plans, a contribution is made to the Ecogold Environmental Fund. The fund supports environmental non-profit organizations working to create a more sustainable future for our planet. Click here if you’re planning a project to protect the environment, or you’re running one already to learn more about the Ecogold Environmental Fund.