Marine pollution: the oceans the trash can of the world

The sources of marine pollution
Image: © Dustan Woodhouse/Unsplash)

Marine pollution is 100 % of human origin and consists of 80 % plastic. According to a study by the Ellen McArthur Foundation, it is estimated that in 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the seas and oceans.

1. How to define marine pollution?

Marine pollution is defined as the direct or indirect introduction of waste, substances, or energy, including underwater sound sources of human origin, which causes or is likely to cause harmful effects for living resources and marine ecosystems, resulting in a loss of biodiversity, risks to human health, obstacles to maritime activities, in particular fishing, tourism and leisure as well as other uses of the sea, an alteration in the quality of the water from the point of view of its use, and a reduction in the value of the approval of the marine environment.

2. The sources of marine pollution?

  • The Ocean is the final destination for a lot of our waste. Waste found most frequently are cigarette butts, packets of candy crisps and wrappers, cotton swabs, bags, and bottles.
  • Manufactured waste ends up in marine habitats around the world, from the poles to the equator, from the shores to the estuaries, on the surface, depth, and offshore.
  • About 80 % of the waste present in the sea comes from human beings’ activities on earth (and find their way through pipes, wastewater, industrial waste, or directly discarded). Others 20 % comes from maritime activities and can come from degassing wild and commercial shipping, tourist and fishing vessels.
  • It is estimated that plastics represent between 60 and 80 % of all marine litter. Manufactured in large quantities since the middle of the 20th century, most of these plastic objects are today always present in the environment.
  • The accumulation of this manufactured plastic since the middle of the 20th century represents around 5 billion tons, which would be enough to fully cover the planet earth in a plasticized layer. The expected quantity by 2050 is 40 billion tons, based on production present, which would cover the planet in six layers plasticized.

3. The impact of marine pollution

3.1 Marine pollution: impacts on aquatic life

Floating on the surface, lining the seabed or stranded on beaches, waste threatens aquatic ecosystems. They can injure and hinder the mobility of many marine species, transport invasive species, or even cause suffocation of the seabed. This pollution of the seas and oceans has a profound impact on all aquatic life.


Aquatic waste constitutes “decoys” for marine fauna, which confuse them with their usual prey. This is the case, for example, of certain turtles that assimilate plastic bags to jellyfish and choke on swallowing them.

Entanglement and injuries

Marine fauna (birds, fish, etc.) become entangled in different types of waste, causing multiple injuries, drowning, and immobilization. This can prevent the animal from feeding, breathing, or even causing death. For example, abandoned or lost fishing nets continue to trap thousands of fish, turtles, birds, and marine mammals for several years. This phenomenon is called “ghost fishing.”

Transport of invasive species

Floating waste that drifts over the currents promotes the transport of invasive species. It is usually mollusks or algae that attach to this waste and then end up thousands of kilometers from their place of origin. This phenomenon disrupts local ecosystems.

3.2 The impact of marine pollution on human

Aquatic waste impacts humans and their activities. They can obstruct navigation routes, disrupt fishing activities, and cause injuries to humans in certain cases. Combating this pollution also represents significant financial investments.

3.2.1 Impacts on human activities

Fishing – Navigation:

The biggest waste, called macro waste, is often trapped in fishing nets. Waste must be removed from the nets and sorted by hand at an additional cost. This waste may also wind up in propellers or collide with boats.


The waste that has not sunk or has not been taken off, drifts, and runs aground on our beaches. In addition to constituting a major ecological challenge, they are visual pollutants having real impacts on the local economy. Therefore, it is all tourist activity that can suffer the consequences; a decrease in the number of tourists, a drop in attendance, negative image of the town, etc.

3.2.2 Impacts of human health

Imbalance of the food chain:
  • By changing the conditions and the general state of water in the seas and all its sources. The natural food chain’s effectiveness gradually changes because there are many pollutants such as lead and cadmium, which are substances that small animals consume on the surface.

The problem lies with big animals that eat small animals that have already died by eating these harmful substances, which cause the same effect on them and then on humans when they hunt, respectively. Consequently, the food chain is significantly disrupted over the years.

  • The waste littering the beaches, like pieces of glass, metal, or syringes are a danger to humans. They are sharp and can carry diseases.
  • Many diseases may be caused by marine pollution, such as;
Infection with cholera, typhoid, and giardia:

Polluted water contains many types of bacteria and viruses that cause diseases in humans when using this water, among them: cholera, typhoid, and giardia. The mixing of human and animal waste with drinking water causes this pollution, through many methods, such as leakage of wastewater, or surface water passing through animal farms.

In order to try to reduce the amount of waste present in the ocean and reduce plastic pollution, there are several solutions to be implemented individually and collectively.

Small gestures can make a big difference:

The best way to do this is to reduce the amount of waste entering the marine environment.

Reducing is: avoiding overwrapped products, or even better, choosing to shop in zero waste grocery stores (without packaging).

Reuse: prefer shopping bags, coffee cups, and reusable water bottles.

Recycle: set up selective sorting (paper, cardboard)

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4. Existing solutions for marine pollution

The ever-increasing pollution of the oceans is a matter of great concern to all the nations. Consensual and innovative solutions are being implemented.

4.1 Ocean cleanup project

Dedicated to the purification of the world’s oceans, the Dutch student presented in 2012 his ecological project to clean the oceans. More precisely, it will be a question of setting up a system of floating dams intended to retain macro waste. This is already the beginning of a commendable solution since dozens of engineers are already working on the implementation of such a system that would allow only micro-waste to pass. The young student hopes to put more than 50 km of floating arms by 2020 to operationalize the cleaning of Atlantic and Pacific waste on an industrial scale.

4.2 Industrial waste disposal

As it is known, industries of all kinds are considered the leading cause of water pollution. In addition to other types of pollution. So; It is time to banish this part of human activity by making a great effort to restore life to the planet.

Therefore, laws have now been passed that compel industries to start cleaning up the waste they leave in their surroundings, including water and surface land. To reduce pollutants that gradually become part of the water life cycle.

4.3 Filter or purify the water

There are many solutions in place to prevent marine pollution. Much of it is based on the concept of water filtration; It is a process in which all pollutants are removed from the water and made suitable for consumption.

The purification or filtration process is carried out using: UV light, after which the filtration process removes any foreign matter, such as sand grains, algae, bacteria, or even organic materials or suspended materials. And thus, remove the pollutant, and the treatment known as osmosis can also be applied.

Originally published on Live Positively.