Deadzones, plastics, sewage, toxins, noise and even light… there’s no end to the ways we’ve polluted our oceans. If fish had any fingers, they’d all be pointing the blame firmly at us, such is the sad state of these waters which sustain our lives. And they’d be right to do so because we’re pretty much 100% responsible for the condition our ocean waters are in today. As with many of the topics we’re covering, understanding the causes gives us an insight in what we can do to help solve the problem. It also underlines why it’s so important to donate to NGOs working to cleanse our oceans back to health.
All for the love of oil
Of the many things we humans do and rely upon - the oil industry is one of the worst oceanic polluters. The noisy drilling, exploration, and moving the invasive rigs and oil platforms around is one aspect. There’s also the spills which happen periodically, be it from the platforms themselves or the giant super tankers which transport the oil across the world. The devastation caused by oil spills has a knock-on effect to marine wildlife that can be felt long after the spilled oil has dispersed. We also need to take into account the day to day running of these ships and drilling rigs, which adds more noise, chemicals and plastic pollution to the oceans. Oil and fuel pollution also comes as a result of smaller vessels around the world, plus the supplementary waste and plastics that enter the ocean as a byproduct of these being on the water. It’s hard to find a silver lining where oil and water is concerned.
Noise, light and runoff.
Oil may lie at the center of most of the marine degradation but it’s certainly not alone. Light and noise pollution is also a very big problem to wildlife, disturbing the natural navigation systems that fish, birds and marine mammals have relied on for thousands of years.
For example, light plays havoc with the migration and breeding patterns of sea turtles, who become disorientated by artificial light pollution. Mother turtles are known to be scared off from their nesting sites due to too much light. Their hatchlings also rely on natural light to help them find their way to the sea when they’re born.
Noise pollution is a similar problem which poses a danger to natural navigation even if it’s just a few decibels of unnatural sound waves from the propellers of pleasure craft. The Cetacean mammal (a whale species) is a social animal that relies on acoustic communication. Even small fluctuations in the ocean’s noise levels cause these beautiful creatures stress and impedes their ability to move around and talk to one another.
The noise pollution from mining companies whose target is untapped fossil fuels is far worse than a small outboard motor on a dingy. As they search for oil and natural gas, they use seismic airguns that can be registered thousands of miles from their origin.
These blasts aren’t just sporadic one-offs either, and fire every few seconds for weeks or even months at a time. If a couple of extra decibels can upset a large mammal like a whale, it doesn’t take a genius to imagine the havoc 246 decibels might cause. (As a reference, a jet airplane taking off is around 140db.) For marine life like shellfish, turtles, whales and dolphins, their entire lives are thrown into disarray by these blasts, resulting in deafness, reduced ability to breed, difficulty finding food and even death in some cases.
Runoff is a cause of pollution that’s linked to rainwater and meltwater trying to find a stream, river or ocean to run into. As it flows over the ground this water picks up pollutants and chemicals from industry, ranching and agriculture, taking these harmful substances into the ocean when it eventually reaches it. Right now, it’s estimated that 80% of pollution in our oceans begins its journey on land as runoff.
It’s hard to talk about ocean pollution without mentioning plastic. The scale of plastic as a pollutant has now reached such high levels that it’s now being called a pandemic. Every minute the amount of plastic being dumped into the ocean could fill a dump truck! Plastic takes about 450 years to decompose and it’s calculated that by 2050 there will be over 850-million tons of it in our oceans. Lots of this dumped plastic gathers in clusters scientists call trash vortexes but the turbulent seas also break some lighter plastics (like single use carrier bags) into smaller pieces. And these smaller pieces then break down further into micro plastics, which are fast becoming hazardous to not just marine life and fish, which ingest it, but also us when we eat contaminated fish.
Big problems need real solutions
Lots of the solutions to oceanic pollution are to do with breaking down mankind’s reliance on certain things. We don’t need single use plastic items for example. And lots of corporations and retailers are doing the right thing and phasing them out. We also need to be aware of our own trash and make sure we’re recycling as much of it as we can. If we’re on the beach, we can take a sweep of the beach before we leave and take plastic and other garbage home with us.
We can also put pressure on our politicians to reduce fossil fuel consumption and make our own switch to greener ways of powering our homes. Where runoff is concerned, we need a more action-led approach. Supporting the grassroots organizations who are fighting to stop natural habitats being used for big-agriculture is a really important step. As is getting behind the impacters working with ocean conservation to clean and cleanse our oceans of plastics and toxins. There’s a lot of hope out there, and little by little we can literally turn back the tide.