Marine pollution refers to the harmful effects caused by the artificial entry of harmful chemicals or particles into our oceans from human activities such as agricultural or industrial, causing the increase in, and spread of invasive materials into our oceans. The effect of pollution on our oceans is detrimental, creating garbage patches which are destructive toward our environment, aquatic and land animals, and interfere with natural processes like our food chain. The largest garbage patch, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre (as seen in Figure 1) has had an eminently negative effect on marine life and is expected to increase in size if we do not alter our behaviours, both on an individual and collective scale.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is comprised of the Western and Eastern garbage patches, and is located off the Coast of North America to Japan, is the result of the North Pacific gyre, which is a large system of rotating ocean currents.
There are four other prominent garbage patches on the planet. If these patches of pollutants are left to circulate our oceans, one of our main pollutants; plastic, will impact our ecosystems, the health of all animals including humans, and our economies if we do not start combatting the causes now. Solving it requires a combination of finding and eliminating the source and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean. The reason so much of the waste is compiled into a patch is due to the light-weight and durability of the plastic, meaning that it would take many, many years to break down and even then, it would only have negative impacts on our environment.
Pollution ends up in our oceans through various different ways and if we can understand how, we can then create solutions to prevent any further pollution entering our oceans or figure out how to start removing many of the pollutants.
Pollution can enter our oceans through flooding, during a flood large amounts of sediment and harmful chemicals (from agricultural activities such as farming) get washed out into river systems, leading to the ocean. The flooding washes many unwanted nutrients like pesticides into our oceans’ cycles and system, while disturbing the natural balances in marine ecosystems and habitat, because the sediment blocks out the sunlight which is essential in the survival of coral and seagrass.
A contributing factor, which turns the water toxic to both the marine life and our land-based environment is the mass amounts of pollution that is released from industrial or urban areas like harmful chemicals that are dumped at sea from urban areas. This is because this waste usually flows down drains that lead directly into our oceans. Chemicals are also dumped at sea or released from urban areas and boats.
Lastly, one of the largest and most harmful contributing factors to marine pollution, rubbish, more specifically, plastics. If our garbage not disposed of properly, almost all of it can potentially reach our oceans in some way. The plastics in our oceans threatens the well-being and survival of marine life and can also be washed back up onto our where it can harm and be ingested by other land animals, while also polluting the coastal habitats. Pollution in the form of old or discarded fishing gear is also extremely dangerous and is an issue globally. The discarded nets continue harming and trapping many marine animals while other types of fishing gear falls to the seafloor causing an array of other problems as seen in Figure 2.
Retrieved from https://hlw.org.au/newsroom/fighting-seqs-marine-pollution-community-marine-debris-grants-up-for-grabs/ of a sea turtle caught in a fishing net
Industrial ecologist Dr Roland, and colleagues, from the University of California in Santa Barbara published a scientific paper in July in the journal of Science Advances in which they calculated the total volume of all plastic ever produced at 8.3 billion tonnes. Of this, about 6.3bn tonnes is now waste – and 79% of that is in landfill or the natural environment. And it is also predicted that by 2050, there is going to be an increase to four garbage trucks per minute disposing of rubbish. At the moment The North Pacific gyre already contains at least 100 million tons of garbage, these statics correctly convey the distasteful state in which we are leaving our oceans.
There are many consequences of marine pollution like the depletion of oxygen content in the water, causing dead zones, and of course the effect of toxic wastes on marine wildlife, disrupting the cycle of coral reefs and causes failures in the reproductive system of marine animals which can lead to their extinction. Over 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals are affected yearly, as well as many other land based species. For example, sea turtles are often found having ingested plastic bags and fishing gear, this is because they mistake it for prey such as small fish and jellyfish.
Old fishing gear which is disposed of in our oceans such as, fishing lines and can trap and drown animals like dolphins, porpoises and whales. Even humans aren’t free from the potential dangers of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Microplastics have been found in the stomachs of nearly half of the most important species for global fisheries. This means we could be eating our own trash. Microplastics have a large human health, it is the smallest particles — micro- and Nano-particles which are of greatest concern. Particles must be small enough to be ingested. There are several ways by which plastic particles can be ingested: orally through water, consumption of marine products which contain microplastics, through the skin via cosmetics (identified as highly unlikely but possible), or inhalation of particles in the air
One of our most consequential problems are microplastics, although we aren’t able to see the negative impacts immediately as most of the microplastics found in fish are in the guts, the future is a lot less certain. As microplastics slowly but surely break down into even smaller Nano plastics, those plastics will be able to even enter muscle tissues after being ingested which then endangers our safety since that is the part of fish we do eat.
Microplastics not only affect our health but mainly marine animals. Marine animals often mistake and eat microplastics because of their small size, the plastic contains harmful chemicals, this is what increases the chance of disease and affect reproduction, which as previously said can be the cause of the extinction of certain species. After ingesting microplastics, animals like seals, suffer for many months, even years before they eventually die a painful and drawn-out death. A study in 2014 even estimated there to be 15 to 51 trillion microplastic particles floating around in our oceans, weighing between 93,000 and 236,000 tonnes.
In Australia marine pollution is managed by the Department whom works co-operatively with other Australian Government and State agencies on domestic and international marine pollution policy and its implementation. Department of the Environment and Energy is quoted expressing that,
“This includes participation in the International Maritime Organisation and the domestic ANZECC Maritime Accidents and Pollution Implementation Group (MAPIG). Current issues include ballast water, toxic anti-foulants, introduced marine pests, pollution from shipping operations and marine debris.”
A major source of introduced marine pests is ballast water, according to Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy. Department of Agriculture has the responsibility to ensure that foreign ballast water is properly being managed according to the Australian Ballast Water Management Requirements before being allowed to be disposed of in Australia’s territorial sea. The Department of the Environment and Energy is also quoted stating that “Australian ballast water management requirements are consistent with International Maritime Organisation (IMO) guidelines for minimising the risk of translocation of harmful aquatic species in ships’ ballast water.”
To receive a National Cooperative Approach to Integrated Coastal Zone Management, the NPA of Australia builds on the Framework and Implementation Plan for and illustrates some specific activities of Australian governments to address sources of pollution that are land-based, this was in response to the shore-based and in-water maintenance contamination and biosecurity risks of vessels and movable structures.
There are three generalised solutions to marine pollution; firstly, is the replacement of plastic solution, or the use of biodegradable plastics instead. This entertains the idea of replacing plastics with something similar properties but lacks the long-lasting damaging properties of regular plastic that destroys our oceans. When we use these biodegradable materials, by the time it reaches a gyre or other garbage patch, it has already completely decomposed leaving only solely organic materials. Secondly, there are the solutions which propose the removing of the plastic from our oceans. These are the types of efforts that consider manual or semi-manual labour by collecting trash, while also encouraging positive change. However, to undo the high volumes of plastic we produce and dispose of every year, is thought of as impossible. Lastly, is the solution which outlines the real issue, that we are the problem, our actions are what causes marine pollution, but luckily our actions are also the solution. These are the changes we can make on a daily basis to decrease our harmful impact on the environment.
Project AWARE is a non-profit organization working with volunteer scuba divers in countries like the UK, US, and Australia. Project AWARE supports divers acting to protect and clean the ocean in their own communities, with the main focus being a focus on implementing lasting change in marine pollution. Project AWARE works to reduce underwater impacts of marine debris and prevent trash from entering the ocean in the first place.
Retrieved from https://pros-blog.padi.com/2017/04/12/project-aware-dive-against-debris-in-the-canaries-and-switzerland/ of Dive Against Debris Divers in Switzerland (Figure 3)
Project AWARE works with businesses, NGOs and governments through Partnerships Against Trash, to uphold their long-term solutions, thereby influencing waste management policies not only on local levels but also on, national and international levels. They have also developed a flagship citizen science program, Dive Against Debris (as seen in Figure 3), the first and only marine debris survey of its kind focused on scuba divers reporting the types and quantities of debris found on the ocean floor. By using and sharing the reported data by Dive Against Debris volunteers, they are spreading knowledge, thereby helping structure convincing arguments for change. Project AWARE has also launched Adopt a Dive Site to further prevent land-based pollution from affecting marine life. Adopt a Dive Site participants’ surveys help inform and thereby improve the health of our ocean ecosystems, but more importantly, they provide crucial information concerning marine debris to help inform policy change.
So far project AWARE has:
This solution shows great potential in what they are aiming to achieve through what they have already achieved, making this solution very satisfactory in their methods. However, it is in my opinion that project AWARE doesn’t take a very realistic approach in how they collect oceanic pollution, though their efforts do spread a positive view and educate many.
In 2018, SC Johnson started a partnership with the Plastic Bank, one of the worlds’ leading organizations that are trying to reduce, limit, and prevent marine pollution, especially plastic. The purpose of Plastic Bank’s is to enforce positive social and environmental changes in areas of the world with very high levels of poverty and plastic pollution. Plastic Bank exchanges the plastic that is collected by locals of places with very high levels of poverty and plastic pollution for money, goods or services, then this collected plastic is recycled and sold as Social Plastic, benefitting both the locals and the community through this exchange.
SC Johnson and the Plastic Bank are opening eight new recycling centres in Indonesia, each with the ability to collect and store 100 metric tons of plastic on a yearly basis while providing many opportunities for the hundreds of local waste collectors. This method of preventing marine pollution is crucial in keeping garbage from being dumped into our oceans.
Nearly 28 million Indonesians live below the poverty line, this solution is therefore a means of earning money while also making a valuable contribution to their communities. However, this solution still has its issues, such as the safety concerns for the collectors since they do not have any means to carry the trash. Excluding the financial security this solution offers, the Plastic Bank also believes that this program not only helps their community and our world, but also offers a sense of pride to the collectors in the services that they are providing.
The Ocean Cleanup designed a system (as seen in Figure 4) that consists of a 600-meter-long floater that sits atop of the ocean’s surface with a tapered 3-meter-deep skirt attached below. The floater is what provides the system its buoyancy while also preventing plastic from flowing over or it, while the skirt stops debris from escaping underneath.
Retrieved from www.theoceancleanup.com ‘Layout of The Ocean Cleanup System 001 Electronics and Instrumentation’ (Figure 4)
The plastic is captured by the use of the oceans natural forces move the system faster than the plastic which allows the plastic to be captured in the centre of the system. The plastic then accumulates thanks to the system’s U-shape design, plastic then accumulates at the centre of the system making it ready for extraction. A vessel acting as a then extracts the plastics from the U-shape where it is trapped, and according to The Ocean Cleanup, the debris will be removed every few months. Plastic will then be processed on land and sorted for its recycling.
Models show that a full-scale Cleanup system (a fleet of around 60 System 001s) would be able to alleviate 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in only five years. After this project is deployed into every oceanic gyre on the planet, combined with source reduction, The Ocean Cleanup projects would then be able to to remove 90% of ocean plastic by 2040. Thereby undoing a very large amount of the harm which we have allowed, the only concerns I have is for the costs and effectivity of this project, since it would not be easy to collect such a tremendous amount of waste every other month without it adding up, although I suppose many governments and independent companies would be willing to donate to the cause.
However, we have to take different approaches when we want to reduce marine pollution on an individual level. Ocean Wise suggests the ‘Just Do One Thing’ approach, which conveys the message that if everybody starts replacing at least one of their products that are currently made from plastic with a product of the same function but made out of biodegradable products, e.g. replacing plastic shower poofs with a biodegradable and re-useable loofa.
If even a third of our population starts switch out some everyday items that are unnecessarily made out of plastic with more eco-friendly options, there would be a definite decrease in the damage done by marine pollution.
Ocean Wise’s also has their ‘Paddle for the Planet’ by Lizzie Carr approach, which gives three key steps to incorporate into our everyday lives for the conservation of our environment.
Carr calls it the “Multi-tasking at its finest: get out on the water AND help the environment with these top tips”:
This can both be very effective and details everyday tasks with the average person can do or change, this sets off a domino effect of people choosing more environmentally-friendly options.
In conclusion, by slowly implementing solutions like these into our daily lives, then into our communities, then our governments, we will eventually be able to make a big difference in how we treat and manage our oceans while putting an end to the detrimental consequences of marine pollution. This manner of living will better the quality of our environment and its inhabitants (both oceanic and on land), while also creating a much more sustainable earth for our future generations and the futures of many different marine species.