Man-Made Reasons the World’s Oceans Are in Danger
Some scientists believe the delicate balance in the ocean is getting ready to collapse. Between climate change, plastic pollution, toxic chemicals and overfishing, marine ecosystems are on the brink of undergoing potentially catastrophic changes. Climate change alone is causing sea levels to rise and bleaching coral reefs that are at the heart of many marine ecosystems.
We may not seem connected, but the health of the world’s oceans plays a key role in the survival of humanity. Take a look at some of the man-made destruction that needs to change if humans want to live to see another century.
More Plastic Than Fish by 2050
Today, the ocean already contains more than 165 million tons of plastic. To put that in perspective, that's 25 times more than the weight of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Whoa! The Ellen MacArthur Foundation predicts there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050, with the plastic speculated to weigh at least 937 million tons versus 895 million tons of fish.
8 Million Tons of Plastic in the Ocean Annually
Each year, we add approximately 8 million tons of plastic to the ocean. The root of the problem is that humans produce more than 300 million tons of plastic yearly, and half of that production is single-use plastic. Unfortunately, we use items for minutes that end up staying on the planet for a few hundred years.
Harm to Millions of Seabirds Each Year
Plastic is killing seabirds at a ridiculously high rate. Around a million birds die each year because of plastic they ingest. The plastic takes up space in their stomachs, which can eventually cause health problems or even starvation.
30 Years of Mass Coral Reef Death
In the past 30 years, we have watched half the coral reefs in the oceans die. This is a huge environmental concern, considering that humanities health depends on them. A fourth of all marine species are supported by coral reefs, and half a billion people also depend on them.
Rising Sea Temperatures
Earth's climate is largely regulated by the oceans. Sea temperatures are rising rapidly as they absorb most of the heat trapped on Earth due to greenhouse gas emissions. This temperature rise is responsible for drastic changes in marine ecosystems, including deadly coral bleaching.
Massive Coral Bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef
Much of the oceans' coral reefs are bleaching at unprecedented rates, thanks to rising sea temperatures. The Great Barrier Reef, in particular, has been severely impacted. Half of the reef has died since 2016 because of warmer ocean waters killing the reef's main food source: colorful algae.
More Than 100,000 Marine Mammal Deaths Yearly
A sperm whale died on a Spanish beach after suffering from inflamed abdominal tissues as a result of ingesting at least 30 kilograms of plastic, including fishing nets and shopping bags. That sperm whale definitely wasn’t the only casualty of the growing crisis. More than 100,000 marine mammals meet their death annually due to plastic debris in the water.
Dangerous Plastic Deep in the Ocean
An American diver broke the record for the deepest dive on record in 2019. Normally, that would be an extremely exciting occasion. However, in this case, the diver’s trip into the depths was marred by finding a plastic bag and plastic wrapper all the way down near the bottom of the Pacific Ocean's Mariana Trench — 7 miles deep.
Massive Marine Pollution from Land
Nonpoint source pollution, also known as runoff from land, is the primary source of ocean pollution. It comes from both small and large sources, including septic tanks, cars, boats, farms, ranches and forests.
Rising Sea Levels from Melting Ice Caps
By 2100, experts believe glacial and ice cap melting will cause the sea to rise by up to 2.7 feet, possibly more. If the warming causes the Greenland ice sheet to melt, sea level could rise by another 20 feet around the world.
Melting Ice Caps and Global Climate Shifts
Around Antarctica and Greenland where the ocean's water layers interact regularly, surface waters get salty, sink to the bottom and take about a thousand years to make it around the world before resurfacing. This is how ocean currents — and stable global climate patterns — are created.
Fertilizers and Pesticides in the Ocean
A big part of the pollution of our oceans comes from land pollution, such as runoff from farms. Because farms use a lot of fertilizers and pesticides, those toxic substances end up in rivers and, eventually, the sea, causing damage to marine ecosystems.
Crisis for Mass Numbers of Sea Turtles
Sea turtles eat plastic because they mistake it for food. Plastic bags look a lot like jellyfish, for example, and fishing nets look like seaweed. Eating plastic can be deadly to these creatures, and they are already endangered. The oceans gain another 8 tons of plastic every year, so this has become a big problem.
Shellfish, Crustaceans and Microplastics
Microplastics, such as the exfoliation beads in many cosmetic products, end up in the ocean and, subsequently, the digestive tracts of some of our favorite marine delicacies: shellfish, oysters, mussels and lobsters. Not only are these microplastics harmful to those creatures, but they also become harmful to us when we eat these creatures.
Glitter as a Marine Life Killer
It turns out that glitter is killing all kinds of marine life, from plankton to whales. Like the microbeads found in many face washes, glitter is a microplastic — a plastic fragment measuring less than 5 millimeters. Many U.S. states have already passed laws restricting or banning the sale of microbeads, but glitter hasn’t been included.
Single-Use Plastic = Biggest Source of Trash
There are 165 million tons of plastic in the ocean, and 89% of it is single-use plastic, like plastic bags, straws, utensils and packaging products. Imagine how much pollution we could eliminate if we just eliminated — or at least severely diminished — single-use plastic products.
Oceans of Plastic in Rivers
The majority of the plastic in the ocean didn’t get thrown directly in the sea. It entered from rivers, which then carried the plastic out to sea. Ten rivers around the world are the main culprits, transporting 90% of all the plastic that ends up in the ocean.
Rising Acidity Levels in the Ocean
Carbon dioxide emissions are causing the ocean to get a lot more acidic than it once was. Over the past century, the ocean has become 26% more acidic, going from 8.2 to 8.1 on the pH scale. However, by the end of this century, that percentage could double, leaving the ocean at 7.7 pH units.
Air Pollution’s Connection to Coastal Toxins
It isn't just trash and agricultural runoff that pollutes the oceans. Air pollution also contributes to its toxicity. Despite awareness about climate change and the disastrous impacts it could have on Earth and human life, air quality in the U.S. has actually gotten worse in the past few years.
Industrial Sewage Going into the Ocean
Industrial waste, even when it’s disposed of legally, is often disposed of in the ocean, much like the rest of the sewage that comes from domestic and commercial sources. The issue is that industrial sewage tends to be much more hazardous, containing heavy metals like lead, arsenic and mercury.
Difficulty Clearing Plastic from the Ocean
The problem of plastic polluting our oceans at a rate of 8 million tons per year is made worse by the fact that it’s not at all easy to remove all that plastic once it’s there. Microplastic particles that contaminate the ocean are hard to detect, and effective strategies for removing them are slim to none at this point.
Mercury Levels on the Rise
Climate change is causing mercury levels in the sea to increase. Considering that the World Health Organization has listed mercury as one of the most toxic metals in the world as well as one of the top ten threats to public health, this is a severe problem.
Human Sound Pollution and Marine Life
Sound pollution is often not considered when thinking about the ways humans are impacting marine ecosystems and life. However, human noise pollution, largely created from ship traffic, creates a severe disruption among sea creatures and whales in particular. This is because whales use sound to communicate with one another and maintain their locational bearings. This disruption can actually impact whales' reproduction and survival.
Disappearing Marine Forests
Kelp forests are one of the ocean's most diverse ecosystems. They are found off the coast of every continent, except Antarctica. Many marine animals use them for shelter and food. In addition, they are part of the global tourism and fishing economies.
Damage from Offshore Oil Drilling
The common thread between all oil spills is that they cause long-term, irreversible damage to marine environments, even if not all the consequences are immediately obvious. While much of the damage occurs within the first few weeks of the spill, indirect damage that takes longer to appear is also an issue.
Dangerously Depleted Fish Stocks
"There are plenty of fish in the sea" may stop being the accurate saying it once was if we don't stop overfishing. One third of the world's commercial fish stocks have reached unsustainable harvesting levels, with 90% of them already completely exploited.
Near Extinction of Cod in Canadian Waters
In the ‘90s, Canadian cod had almost gone extinct, which wasn’t that surprising, considering cod fisheries fed millions of people and contributed massively to the economy. The cod population never fully recovered, and the fish will probably become extinct, despite conservation efforts in recent years.
Dead Zones in the Atlantic Ocean
Most marine dead zones — areas where there is no dissolved oxygen in the water to support life — form seasonally in shallow areas near coastlines as a result of sewage and fertilizer runoff. However, the dead zones found in the Atlantic Ocean in recent years are way out in the middle, far away from the coast.
Marine Vertebrates Disappearing
Since 1970, 50% of marine life has disappeared completely. In some species, like tuna and mackerel, the population has gone down by 75%, while others are very near extinction. Overfishing is one of the primary causes of this massive global disappearance of marine vertebrates.
Problem with Seashell Souvenirs
Coastal ecosystems actually depend on seashells. Whether seabirds use them to build nests, fish use them as protection to hide from predators or algae and other microorganisms turn them into homes, seashells have a lot of functional purposes. Taking them from the beach endangers the ecosystem's organisms and threatens their survival.