The oceans are mankind’s lifeline, they are the lifeblood of earths ecosystem’s and without them, we would not be here today. The world’s ‘Global Ocean’ covers over 71% of the planet’s surface. It is so grand that it has been divided into 5 individual oceans, all of which are connected.
The ocean is the most mysterious, expansive and diverse ecosystem on the planet and to our detriment; the oceans and its inhabitants are being threatened by pollution, not only by natural causes, but also from humans. More and more areas within the oceans are becoming ‘dead zones’ and the loss of marine life is becoming extensive. Did you know that there are over 405 ‘dead zones’ throughout the oceans, where nitrification has exhausted the amount of oxygen in the water, rendering it inhospitable? If we don’t act now, then this can severely impact life, on earth, as we know it.
Throughout history, the thought was, that the ocean is so large, that dumping huge amount of rubbish, would not effect us or the oceans, however little did they know how it would affect us in modern times. Even to this day, it is recorded that humans dump approximately 8 million tons of plastic into the ocean every year. Over the past few decades, the speed of which the oceans are suffering has accelerated, this is due to oil spills, plastic and toxic waste being pumped into the oceans at an alarming rate.
Plastic is the biggest killer of marine life, in 2010, over 215 million metric tons of plastic had found its way into the oceans. Not only is plastic harmful for the environment, it is also mistaken for food by marine wildlife. It takes on average 400 years for plastics to degrade in the ocean.
The largest source of pollution found in the ocean, comes directly from land-based sources. These include, factories, farms, vehicles, sewage tanks, as well as much larger industrial operations. The chemicals produced by these sources include; oil, petrochemicals, asbestos, lead, phosphates, mercury and nitrates all of which can severely impact both marine life as well as our food chain. We as humans consume over 14% of our protein, from fish.
Even though, the dumping of waste takes place hundreds of miles away from land, the ocean has a funny way of spitting it out again. However, this trash ends up on our beaches and coastal areas and has a huge effect on the coral and wildlife that it comes into contact with, on its journey to these places. This build up of pollution on the beach can also affect humans. Coming into contact or mistakenly ingesting the water surrounding this pollution can result in some nasty side effects such as stomach-aches, diarrhoea or even skin rashes. Did you know that there is a floating ‘Garbage Island’ also known as the ‘Pacific Garbage Patch’ or the ‘Pacific Trash Vortex’, which is located in the north Pacific, just off the coast of California? It is the largest oceanic rubbish patch in the world.
Crude oil is the most dangerous and fastest cause of oceanic deterioration. However, only 12% of oil entering our oceans comes from oil spills. 36% of the oil found in our oceans actually comes from land run-off, and it is this, that is causing most damage to oceanic ecosystems. Crude oil can suffocate marine life, cause disorientation and poisoning if ingested. To those creatures that survive, this can cause long-term issues which may result in them never returning to their natural habitats.
Toxic metals also pour into the oceans, from surface run-off. These metals can destroy the biochemistry, reproductive systems and behaviour of marine life. Plastics and plankton can absorb these toxic metals. Unfortunately, smaller sea creatures mistake these toxic plastics for food, or eat their regular diet of plankton. Once they have ingested these plastics or infected plankton, the food chain then continues, meaning that larger fish then consume the smaller creatures, which then ends with those larger fish being eaten by humans and so, pollution directly affects each and every one of us. Mankind has a direct impact on what happens off shore and what could be a tiny mistake can be detrimental to the health and safety of life on earth.
Mercury is one of these toxic metals found in the ocean and for humans, having a prolonged exposure to mercury can cause all sorts of neurological and systemic diseases; these include Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.
We have so much to thank the oceans for. The oceans provide over 70% of the oxygen that we breathe as well as over 97% of the world’s water supply. The oceans are also home to some of the most magnificent wildlife and plants in the world. Medical scientists have studied certain marine plants and have found that they have helped to reduce inflammation, pain and have even been known to help combat certain types of cancers, in humans.
Protecting our oceans is essential and learning about them, is the first step. If you would like to learn more about the oceans and the effect that pollution has on its wildlife and us, then take a look at the incredible infographic below…
How ocean pollution affects humans – Graphic by the team at DIVE.in