Marine Pollution: Meaning, Causes, Effects, Control Measures

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Marine Pollution: Meaning, Causes, Effects, Control Measures

What is Marine Pollution?

Marine pollution refers to the contamination or presence of pollutants in oceans and seas. The word ‘marine’ comes from the Latin word for ‘sea’ and it is related to similar words, such as ‘mariner’. Ocean pollution is become ever more of a problem in the present day.

Marine pollution can be defined as anything that contaminates the sea. Common marine pollutants include chemicals, small plastic beads in exfoliants and also toxic bio-matter (such as sewage). But, noise – due to excessive traffic around the ocean – can also be defined as pollution if it disrupts marine life.

Pollution can vary depending on the context and the purpose for which seawater is being used. For example, normal seawater has some small particles of plants or sand in, and when the sea is considered as the habitat of marine animals, one would not think of these particles as pollutants – whereas one would definitely define toxic chemicals as pollutants. However if somebody wanted to use this brine for cooking in, they might see the sand and plants as polluting our cooking water.

Causes/Sources of Marine Pollution

1. Toxic chemicals in water.

Chemical runoff from industry can really endanger marine life. Industrial waste pumped into the sea, household cleaners poured down the sink, and even chemicals in the atmosphere (for instance due to the discharge of industrial wastes through factory chimneys) that dissolve into the sea can pollute our oceans significantly.

2. Oil spillages.

This is usually an accidental form of industrial dumping, whereby leaks in oil tankers cause vast quantities of oil to pour into the ocean. Accidental oil spills can devastate marine life.

3. Small particles.

The tiny plastic beads in exfoliating creams and other small particles that we pour down the drain without thinking wind up polluting the ocean.

4. Plastic, Litter, and human waste.

Plastic bags, aluminum cans, trash and other human waste constitute a major pollutant of the world’s oceans. A huge ‘island’ of trash roughly the size of Texas was recently found in the Pacific ocean for instance, demonstrating the vast scale of this problem.

5. Sewage.

Whether or not it is treated with toxic chemicals, sewage pollutes the clear, clean water of the oceans. This is another type of industrial dumping. Sometimes, sewage is not pumped directly into the sea but into rivers, and then the untreated water of rivers carries it into the sea.

6. The shipping industry.

Gases (which dissolve in the sea), chemicals and sewage from container ships are major pollutants.

7. Dissolved greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse gases from human fossil fuel consumption are making the sea more acidic.

Effects of Marine Pollution

1. Oxygen depletion.

Seawater is full of dissolved oxygen, however decomposing sewage and other biomatter in oceans can result in a condition known as ‘hypoxia’ or oxygen depletion. This makes it hard for oxygen loving marine life – plants, fish and animals – to survive in the oceans.

2. Higher acidity.

Toxic chemicals make our oceans more acidic. Again, this makes them poisonous to marine life and causes harm to fish and marine mammals as well as marine plants and corals.

3. Choking marine life.

Small pieces of plastic and other litter are increasingly being found in the stomach of fish, turtles and other marine animals. These pieces of trash choke marine animals and hamper their digestion, with an often fatal result.

4. Spoiling birds’ feathers.

Oil spills coat the feathers of marine birds and strip them of the natural oils that birds use to keep their feathers waterproof and to maintain their own body temperatures. As a result, marine birds can overheat or get too cold, and they find it hard to stay afloat as their feathers get soggy. They will also find it difficult to fly when their feathers are clogged with oil.

5. Blocking out the sunlight.

Pollutants such as oil or litter can block out the sunlight from sea plants which need sunlight for photosynthesis.

6. Dangers to human health.

Human swimmers and water sports lovers can become endangered by swimming in a polluted sea.

Control Measures/ Solutions for Marine Pollution

1. Be careful with our chemicals.

Climate change and marine pollution are both results of excess human interference in the natural world. If we choose eco-friendly household cleaners and take measures to reduce the fumes we release into the air (for instance, by choosing public transport over cars) we can reduce the impact of our lives on the oceans.

Further, careful site monitoring to prevent or stop any chemical or oil spills at all times will reduce the instances of oil spills.

2. Don’t flush or rinse away harmful particles.

If we do not flush plastics down the toilet, and if we do not pour oils and exfoliating beads down the faucet, we prevent these particles from reaching our oceans. Switch to exfoliants that use natural materials like seeds, sugar or sand instead – and recycle all plastics!

3. Campaign.

Influence the decisions of policymakers and factory bosses to make them more eco-friendly by lobbying, writing letters, spreading the word on social media and campaigning. Motivating the shipping companies to use safe and environmentally friendly vessels are among the key measures that can be taken here.

4. Volunteer at an oil spill site.

Volunteers are always needed at oil spill sites to save the lives of marine birds by washing the oil from their feathers and caring for them until they are ready to fly, swim and dive under water again. Intervention is always needed as soon as possible to ensure that these birds do not suffer any ill effects to their health.

5. Volunteer at a beach cleanup – or organize one yourself.

Rid your local beach of litter by getting together with the rest of the community to pick up the trash left behind by careless picnickers, boat crews and more. Joining together as a community to care for the natural world is a wonderful way to remind everyone how intimately we are connected to nature, and how much we depend on it. Working together with other people also helps to keep us motivated and reminds us that we are not alone in our quest to care for the environment.

6. Ensuring no debris is released into the ocean.

Recycling our plastics and other recyclable, and disposing of our waste responsibly is key here.


Marine pollution is a serious issue, and it comes in many forms. Nevertheless, there are several ways that we can take positive action right now to solve this problem of marine pollution. We should never think that our individual actions do not count when it comes to caring for the environment: they do! If we refrained from dumping rubbish in the ocean, for instance, every single individual on this earth could prevent several tonnes of trash from spoiling the habitats of marine animals – this is no small achievement! And, when we club together with other people, our ability to fight marine pollution becomes even bigger. So why not start today? Write to your local authority, organize a beach cleanup, research environmentally friendly household cleaning products and stop using exfoliating products containing plastic beads. You could save a life in the sea today!

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