Author: Karla Miklautz
Date of publication: 18/07/2023
Ocean pollution stands as a major environmental concern, presenting a grave peril to the overall health and welfare of our world. According to the United Nations, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year. It changes the lives of the ecosystems that live in it. Research states that plastic will most likely outweigh all fish in the sea by 2050.
Water pollution leads to numerous outcomes that have both direct and indirect impacts on marine organisms and human beings. Some of the most common consequences of ocean pollution leave negative impacts on marine species. Moreover, they reduce oxygen levels in ocean water and endanger human well-being.
Marine species face negative impacts
Ocean pollution poses a significant threat to marine creatures. For instance, oil spills have detrimental effects on sea animals, as they can become trapped and suffocated due to the oil infiltrating their gills. Seabirds, when exposed to oil on their feathers, may lose their ability to fly or nourish their offspring. Additionally, marine animals that survive oil spills may experience cancer, behavioral alterations, and reproductive difficulties.
Furthermore, marine creatures often mistake small plastic fragments for food. As a result, this leads to ingestion or becoming entangled in discarded fishing nets and plastic bags. Dolphins, fish, sharks, turtles, and crabs are among the most vulnerable animals to harm caused by plastic debris in the ocean.
Reduction of oxygen levels in ocean water due to pollution
The accumulation of excessive debris in the ocean gradually breaks down over an extended period, consuming oxygen in the process. Consequently, the availability of oxygen in the ocean decreases. What’s more, insufficient oxygen levels have fatal consequences for various marine animals, including penguins, dolphins, whales, and sharks.
Moreover, an excessive presence of nitrogen and phosphorus in seawater contributes to oxygen depletion. When extensive oxygen depletion occurs in a particular ocean area, it can transform into a dead zone, making it nearly impossible for the marine to survive.
Endangering human well-being
Pollutants present in the ocean ultimately find their way back to humans. In particular, toxins are ingested by small organisms, which are then consumed by larger predators, including seafood that humans consume. When contaminated animals with toxins are deposited in human tissue, it can lead to long-term health issues, such as cancer and birth defects.
For instance, methylmercury, which is converted from mercury by bacteria and transported to the ocean's surface, is absorbed by phytoplankton. As this toxin moves up the food chain, zooplankton feed on the phytoplankton, followed by small fish consuming the zooplankton, and eventually larger fish consuming the smaller ones. By the time a fish reaches the size of a swordfish, it can contain a significantly high level of mercury. Swordfish, in fact, have one of the highest mercury levels.
Preventing or at least reducing sea and ocean pollution is in human hands. Responsible behavior and a sustainable way of living are key factors in this mission. According to estimates by the United Nations Environment Program, by 2025 half of the planet's population will face a shortage of this precious resource. Every drop of polluted water today means wasted water tomorrow.