Ocean Pollution Facts – Everything You Need to Know

Oceans are the largest bodies of water on our planet and home to many marine animals and plants. In recent years humans have damaged the oceans to the extent that is nearly past the point of no return. It is important that we know what ocean pollution is, what causes it, and what the effects are. We must do our part to stop the marine pollution before it is too late.

What is Ocean Pollution?

In short, ocean pollution is the spreading of harmful substances into the oceans. These substances range from plastic, oil, agricultural waste, chemicals, and trash. The different categories of pollution in the ocean are petroleum, hazardous, thermal, and radioactive.

Petroleum is the most obvious; this includes oil and gas spills that end up in the ocean. Oil finds it’s way into the ocean through ships, tankers, offshore pipelines, and offshore platforms. Drilling for petroleum is another way that oil leaks into the oceans. Hydrocarbon is also a form of petroleum pollution. Hydrocarbon is a gas form of oil. The different stages of unloading and loading oil, from extraction to consumption, cause these marine pollutants. The humidity from the air falls to the oceans, and the hydrocarbons begin polluting the water systems. About 37% of the oil found in the ocean is from discharges of oil consumptions and 12% from ship spills.

Chemical Pollution

Hazardous oil marine pollution is also known as chemical pollutants. Since the increase in chemical pollution, two-thirds of aquatic life is considered an endangered species. Chemical pollution in the ocean is mainly due to runoff. Again, as farmers and gardeners are putting chemicals on their plants and fields, the rain washes it off and brings it to the water systems.

These chemicals are creating a domino effect to entire food chains. As we introduce chemicals into the water, fish and water plants are infected. Fish begin to die off or become sick. Thus, the birds that feed on the fish are getting sick and beginning to die off. Water is the life source for all of the animal kingdom and when it is infected, so is the rest of the chain. The marine chemical pollution is creating an increase in algae growth and phytoplankton. These increases are killing off birds, fish, marine mammals, and can even harm humans. When the algae bloom dies, the bacteria that consumes the dead growth take up all of the oxygen in the water and creates dead zones where fish cannot live.

Thermal Pollution

Thermal pollution is another marine pollution concern. In simple terms, thermal pollution is when humans take in a natural water source and heat it up or cool it down. Once they are done using the water, they drain it back into the natural source. The issue is the temperature change. Changes in water temperatures cause differences in oxygen levels. Warmer water temperature reduces the levels of dissolved oxygen. Water that is warmer holds less oxygen that cold water. The decrease in dissolved oxygen can suffocate plants and marine life. Warm water also creates an environment where harmful levels of algae can grow, which over a period of time can decrease the level of oxygen even more.

Since dissolved oxygen levels are decreasing, so is biodiversity. Some organisms flourish in warm water, while there are others that are harmed by it. As a result, there are plants and marine life that are struggling due to the pollution in the water. Some marine life is even dying out due to the increase in temperature. The shock of the temperatures can kill masses of fish, insects, plants, and amphibians. As a result, the thermal pollution is having a disastrous effect on the ecosystems.

Radioactive Pollution

Lastly, radioactive ocean pollution is a concern. Although radioactive levels are still relatively diluted it still raises concerns. Since the Fukushima disaster in Japan, large levels of radioactive waste are pouring into the Pacific Ocean. Even though the ocean is trying it’s best to fight back, there are already signs of damage appearing. Thousands of tons of radioactive water is spilling over into the Pacific Ocean. As a result, fish have high levels of radioactive cesium and iodine in their systems as well as radioactive water 25 miles offshore.

Scientists are still unsure how exactly this radioactivity will impact the ecosystems. They are also unsure of how to fix the radioactive levels. Science has proven that when ocean water is polluted with the radioactive material, it will travel with ocean currents, deposit into ocean sediment, and quickly impact all rungs of the marine food ladder. It is clear that the level of ocean pollution is having terrifying results.

What Causes Ocean Pollution?

As stated earlier, there are numerous things and substances that cause ocean pollution. The following are just to name a few.


Most sewage that finds it’s way to the ocean is human waste. This originates from flushing waste down the toilet, wastewater from the bathtub and shower, laundry water, vegetable and food matter that is washed down the kitchen drain, as well as what is ground up in the garbage disposal. The main concern in regards to this type of sewage is pathogens. Pathogens are the disease-causing microbe and we can find them in sewage. In fact, sewage is the main carrier of pathogens. Animal waste is another concern. In agricultural areas, farmers will spread animal waste on their land to help keep the soil fertile. Most farmers do not till the animal waste into the soil, so it remains on the surface of the soil. When the rain falls, a majority of the animal waste becomes runoff and a marine pollutant.

Ocean Mining

Ocean mining is another cause for concern due to the large amounts of pollutants it has introduced to the depths of the water. Mining for copper, silver, gold, cobalt, and zinc releases sulfide deposits into the ocean water. Science is still working on the complete impact that ocean mining has on the ecosystem; we know that it causes damage to the lowest levels of the ocean and increases toxicity. This damage is permanent and increases the damage when combined with corrosion, oil spills, and oil leaks.


Trash in the water is a leading problem in marine pollution. Shockingly, trash from the atmosphere is the worst litter bug of them all. Trash that the wind blows into the ocean from inland is the leading cause of trash polluting the oceans. These pollutants include sand, dust, debris, plastic, and other man-made trash, but most of the trash the finds it’s way to the ocean will not decompose for years. As a result, this trash will float in the ocean currents for generations. There are trash islands that have begun to form in different parts of the ocean, some spanning miles. The largest garbage patch spans from the West Coast of America all the way to Japan.

Almost all of this trash is not biodegradable and will continue to float around the ocean for years to come. There are over five trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean, and the number is continuing to rise. As a result, many of the animals that live in the ocean are getting caught, choking, or trying to consume the trash that has invaded their homes. The pollution has increased the level of water acidity and the temperature is being impacted due to the carbon dioxide being released into the water. Other ocean pollution articles have pointed out that turtles, dolphins, whales, sharks, seabirds, and crabs are the animals being majorly impacted by the amount of pollution in the oceans.

Oil Spills

The well-known BP oil spill had very traumatic effects on the ocean. Ship pollution is the largest source of ocean pollution. Crude oil lasts for years after it is introduced into the water and is extremely toxic to marine life. The oil entraps the marine life that swims through it and will suffocate them to death. Since crude oil is so difficult to clean up, once it is spilled it is more times than not going to stay where it is.

Noise Pollution

Although noise pollution is not something we can physically touch, it is still a pollutant to the ocean. Ships, military communication, and other unnatural noise in the ocean are causing marine life to become confused. Since many marine animals communicate using sonar, the unnatural sonar and loud noises are causing a miscommunication between animals. Dolphins and whales are having difficult times finding food, mates, and a sense of direction due to the noise pollution found in the oceans.

Effects of Ocean Pollution

The effects of ocean pollution have been discussed a little bit through this article, but the negative impact pollution has is almost indescribable. To begin, the trash is taking many marine lives each year. The trash will get caught in species gills, feathers, wrapped around flippers or legs, and can cause different skin and eye irritations. Recently, there was a sea turtle found with a plastic straw shoved up his nose, the entire length of the straw. Other birds are being found with plastics wrapped around their necks, legs, and wings. These sad encounters are causing animals to be unable to hunt, swim, breed, or eat.

With different chemicals being released into the ocean, many of the pesticides are accumulating in the fatty tissues of animals. As a result, animals reproductive systems are failing, leading to a decrease in their species numbers. Along with this thought, chemicals are impacting the amount of food found in the ocean is being impacted. Small organisms are ingesting the chemicals that are being pumped into the water. When these smaller creatures are eaten the chemical is passed on to the other animal. This process continues up the food chain and impacts each organism.  Eventually, humans then consume these impacted animals, and we are not immune to the chemicals either. Humans are beginning to notice increased levels of cancer, birth defects, heart diseases, and other long-term health problems as a result.

Ocean Pollution Facts

  • Plastic is the most common element of pollution in the ocean.
  • Over one million seabirds, three hundred thousand dolphins and porpoises are killed each year by ocean pollution, not to mention the thousands of other lives that pollution impacts as well.
  • Even trash that humans dump on land still manages to find it’s way to the oceans.
  • Toxic metals destroy biochemistry, behavior, reproduction, and growth of marine life. The metals seep into the water and release toxins that alter structures of the ecosystem.
  • Plastic rings that hold six-packs together are just part of the plastics that we find wrapped around turtle’s flippers and the necks of many seabirds. This plastic will inhibit the animal’s ability to swim, fly, or eat. As a result, many choke or starve to death.
  • Every day, in the Los Angles area alone, more than ten metric tons of plastic is carried into the ocean. This plastic is made up of plastic bottles, bags, straws, and bottles.
  • About 1.5 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution is carried by the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico each year. This amount of pollution causes a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey each summer.
  • About 40% of the lakes in America are too polluted for fishing, marine life, or swimming to be healthy or possible.
  • We thought that the “solution to pollution, is dilution.” This idea has been disproven as the pollution continues to increase and its negative impact continues to grow.

Summing it Up

Ocean pollution is a problem that continues to impact our ecosystems in terrible ways. Pollution destroys our food and water as the trash continues to choke out life. It is discouraging to see the horrible impact that trash has had on our planet. Chemicals, toxins, trash, radiation, and pollutants are choking out marine life. As there is little to no answers as to how we can reduce our carbon footprint on our oceans, we can continue to do what we can by recycling as much as possible and using products that are biodegradable. This is the world we are leaving for our children; We need to do what we can to leave them a clean one.

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Green and Growing Team

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