Pollution affects the food we eat. Heavy metals and other harmful chemicals can collect on many marine animals and those same animals, especially seafood, can end up on our dinner tables if not already killed by the contaminants. More than one-third of the United States shellfish-growing waters are affected by coastal pollution. Of all the different types of wastes in the ocean, plastics are the most common type. Being 60-80% of all ocean litter and over 90% of all floating particles microplastics absorb all kinds of contaminants from the water and are ingested by a variety of marine organisms.
Plastic pollution is far reaching. Plastic suffocates wildlife above the water on land as well as below. An estimated one million seabirds and sea turtles die each year as a result of plastic that was littered clogging their digestive systems and resulting in their death. All kinds of marine animals also become tangled and incapacitated by discarded fishing lines and plastic bags just thrown into the ocean.
Other marine animals also ingest microplastics which can end up in our local markets. Sound waves travel faster and farther in the sea than they do in the air. Marine mammals, like whales and dolphins, communicate by sound to navigate, mate, and find food. But an increase in ocean noise pollution caused by us humans is affecting the underwater acoustic immensely, harming and even killing marine species. About 60,000 commercial tanker and container ships cruise the ocean at any given time and The U.S. Navy also contributes to the underwater disturbance for testing and training which reaches every corner of the ocean and diminishes the sensory range for marine organisms who depend on it.
Nonpoint source pollution occurs as a result of runoff and includes many small sources, like septic tanks, cars, trucks, and boats, and larger sources like farms, livestock ranches, and timber harvest areas. Point source pollution comes from a single source like an oil or chemical spill. Discharge from faulty or damaged factories or water treatment systems are also point source pollution. Man-made pollution is one of the biggest threats to our oceans. Discarded plastics and other residential wastes and harmful chemicals find their way into the sea hurting the marine life and the habitats they depend on. It is estimated that 80% of marine pollution originates on land.
Land based pollutants contribute to developing ocean “dead zones”, which are areas that can no longer sustain life because they have low to zero level of oxygen. Climate change increases the stress level of several marine organisms and ecosystems and impacts global water resources. Marine pollution creates an economic problem because the ocean provides oceanic resources and the pollution reduces the value to the natural capital.
The ocean covers more than 70 percent of our planet and our oceans are the earth’s most valuable natural resources. The ocean influences the weather, cleans the air and helps feed and provide for millions. Instead of continuing to focus on treating the damages that occurred the financial system should focus on long term advantages of environmental protection. Almost every marine organism is contaminated with man-made chemicals. Some of the chemicals enter the ocean through intentional merchandising. Tiny animals at the bottom of the food chain absorb the chemicals as they feed. Because they are don’t break down simply, the chemicals gather up in these organisms, resulting in more concentration in their bodies than in the water or soil. Tiny animals ingested the chemicals and the concentration rises again. Animals higher up the food chain can have levels of contamination multiple times higher than the water which they live in. Pollutants don’t disappear, they just get worse.
The dumping of toxic materials was banned by the London Dumping Convention in 1972, and an amended treaty created in 1996 restricted what could and could not be dumped at sea. However the issues of toxic material already dumped and even the disposal of permitted substances in the ocean can be a vast environmental hazard that needs to be taken care of as soon as possible.
The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea defined marine pollution as being introduced by man, either directly or indirectly, of the dumpings of substances into the marine environment which ends up leading to hurtful effects such as hurting living resources and marine life. Conventions were developed which led to the first major international conference on marine pollution, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, resulting in an arrangement to manage actions toward the prevention of marine pollution. Black list substances are substances that are not to be dumped into the ocean unless they are in trace amounts. Gray list substances are substances that require special care measures in judging if suitable for disposal in the ocean. These lists were adopted to prevent the dumping of wastes and other litter into the ocean.
In September 2014, former President Obama put aside about 500,000 square miles in the Pacific Ocean to create what at the time was the world’s largest fully protected reserve. Then in August 2016, he expanded it to be about half the size of Texas. In 2015, fishery managers for the mid-Atlantic coast took action to protect deep-sea corals and sponges and the deep-sea canyons where they thrive from bottom-contact fishing gear in more than 38,000 square miles. After years of talks and tireless campaigning by many people around the world, there finally has been a major global milestone.
In January 2015, the U.N. reached a breakthrough agreement to begin negotiations on an international treaty to protect marine biodiversity in the sea. Now we must work to maintain the strength and ensure the strongest possible protections for the sea. There is much more to be done to make marine reserves in 40 percent of the oceans a reality. More than ever, though, we are making progress in the water and have more marine reserves in our future. Humans are beginning to see the shortsightedness of the ‘dilution’ theory. Many national laws as well as international protocols now forbid dumping of harmful materials into the ocean, although enforcement can often be inconsistent. Marine sanctuaries are being created to maintain pure ocean ecosystems and the lost efforts to restore deltas and bays have been met with some success.
During the last six years, the community of nations has come to realize that most of our world is ocean, and has taken important steps to relate it’s resources and its conveniences to the interest of us. Formal solutions have been adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on the role of the oceans extending world order, in meeting protein malnutrition, in providing energy and minerals, and in fostering economic health of developing nations. There has been a lot of attention focused on measures to protect the health of the marine environment against waste disposal. To get to these benefits, a wide range of prescriptions has been introduced for necessary legal arrangements, to be considered at the Law of the Sea Conference. Nevertheless, the study, protection and disposition of resources, now a common interest, has become such a serious and difficult task as to question the existence of competence, experience, and vitality of international machinery to meet emerging needs and opportunities.
Many separate functions, agencies and jurisdiction of the United Nations framework deal with the sea, but these have been considered sudden, random and over time, unmindful of the need for a essential approach to ocean space, for operational coordination, and for a comprehensive base of scientific, technical and economic facts for sound decision making. The capacity of the ocean to absorb and get rid of the harmless waste poured into it has rightly been questioned because these pollutants do not respect political boundaries and because the major part of the marine environment is outside national jurisdiction, marine pollution is actually an international problem, therefore needing international action. Because national action will come first, it is essential to coordinate this work at an international level. It should be ensured that the same standards are used everywhere, and that the information which is gathered in this way will be made available internationally. Finally, it will be necessary to develop appropriate international laws, establishing the responsibility of individual states for the preservation of the marine environment.
NOAA’s Marine Debris Program operates under the Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act of 2006. Its mission is to “investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris through research, prevention and reduction activities in order to protect and conserve our nation’s marine environment and ensure navigation safety”. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Marine Debris Prevention Program runs under ocean-based laws, including the 2006 Marine Debris Act, the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act, the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act and the Shore Protection Act, as well as a number of land-based orders. The program has developed research and monitoring actions, and many prevention, control and reduction measures. At the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference which took place in March 2011, conference participants worked to revise the Honolulu Strategy. The Honolulu Strategy aims to work towards a framework of action with the overarching goal to reduce impacts of marine debris over the next 10 years. This goal will be achieved through the action of committed contributors at global, regional, country, local, and individual levels.
It’s hard to clean up marine pollution once it has occurred so all you really can do is plan to prevent it from getting worse. Several changes can take place to help keep the industry in check and encourage sustainable practices in the US and across the globe such as, stricter government regulations on industry and manufacturing is one large effective solution. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has enacted several laws to help protect beaches, reduce pollution from ships, reduce marine debris, and prohibit ocean dumping. Implementing renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar power, to limit offshore drilling.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tracks renewable ocean energy projects and offers insight on how renewable energy can impact oceans throughout the United States. Limiting agricultural pesticides and encouraging organic farming and eco-friendly pesticide use can also help. There are several federal laws and regulations that help prevent the sale and use of substandard pesticides. The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to evaluate the impact of pesticides on endangered species and their habitats, including those in the ocean. Proper sewage treatment and exploration of eco-friendly wastewater treatment options, such as recycling sewage sludge to carbon-phosphorus fertilizer, are other solutions. Under the Clean Water Act, the EPA offers assistance for recycling and regulates sewage sludge to help reduce metal concentrations in water. Cutting down on industry and manufacturing waste and containing landfills can help so that they don’t spill into the ocean. The Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments passed in 1984 set standards for landfills and placed restrictions on where landfills may be located. Marine pollution has been an issue for a very long time but together we can finally put an end to it or at least reduce it, in which will have a great impact on the world we live in.