Term Paper: Ocean Pollution

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Marine Pollution

The ocean covers 71% of the surface area of the globe and accounts for 90% of all habitable space in the planet (Mulvaney 1998).The total volume of the ocean is approximately 300 million cubic miles and weighs approximately 1.3 million million tons. This great matrix is so vast that scientist-writer Arthur C. Clarke once commented about the inappropriateness of calling this planet "earth," because it substantially ocean. And because of its vastness, scientists used to believe that man could not appreciably despoil it (Mulvaney).

The ocean plays a critical role in sustaining life in this planet (Earle1998). Every activity creates far-reaching impacts on the world at large. The environment and economic conditions of marine and coastal waters are linked and interdependent at the individual, community, state, regional, national and international levels. The U.S. now recognizes that health, safety, and pollution control must entail additional business costs. Economic and social prosperity will be useless if the coastal and marine environments are sacrificed, abused or neglected in the process of development. In whatever part of the world one lives, everyone is utterly dependent on the ocean. The ocean can thrive without life but life cannot with the ocean. It is the basic life-support system of all living things. If the ocean dies, life will cease. The future and the state of the oceans are, therefore, one (Earle). Yet global pollution of the oceans has persisted and intervention efforts have so far been weak.

The National Research Council estimated that as many as 8.8 million tons of oil are poured into the ocean as a result of human activity (Mulvaney 1998). All kinds of garbage find their way into coastal waters and, eventually, the ocean. These range from fish nets, trash, cargo ships to litter on the beach. Once in the ocean, garbage traps, ensnares and entangles marine wildlife, like marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds. A National Academy of Sciences review found that more than 14 billion pounds of garbage entered the ocean from sea-based sources alone. In the 80s, it was also discovered that 30,000 fur seals had died each year from entanglement in marine debris, lost or abandoned fishing gear. Heavy metals have also affected marine wildlife. Examples are organochlorine compounds like DDT and PCBs. Boyce Thorne-Miller, senior scientist at SeaWeb, said that contaminants were linked with mortality, malformation, reduced hatching levels, developmental and chromosomal abnormalities in fish eggs and larvae. The contaminants were also shown to adversely affect the reproductive and immune system problems in marine mammals. Many ocean species thrive on coastal habitats for breeding, feeding and sheltering a third of the world's marine fish species. Around a million species of reef systems are found on coral reefs. Mangroves, sea grasses and other coastal habitats are also vital breeding, feeding and nursery homes to fish and shellfish and their protection against harsh weather. Around 90% of these fisheries harvest comes within 200 miles of the coast (Mulvaney).

Up to 66% of the world's population now lives within 40 miles of the shore and is growing faster than the global population itself (Mulvaney 1998). In the U.S. between 1960 and 1990 alone, the population in coastal counties increased by 41 million or 43%. The pressure asserted by growing population has placed much pressure on coastal environments. The world's coral reefs were reported to have deteriorated beyond recovery and that 30% more would decline in the next 15 or so years. It was also reported that around 70% of mangrove forests had been cut down for the construction of aquaculture ponds. Nutrient pollution has choked seagrasses.. Dams have destroyed many fish habitats and have been identified as a primary cause in the extinction of at least 106 major populations of salmon and steelhead in the West Coast alone (Mulvaney).

Every year, up to four million tons of petroleum is dumped into the sea (Boukhari 1998). There have been accidents because of shipowners' unscrupulous practices. Bacteria, viruses and other organisms are also carried by these ships on board with ballast water. Upon reaching their destination, the water is thrown out without treatment or filtration. It has been reported that more than 3,000 species of animals and plants are carried across the sea each day. These foreign species may be responsible for the disappearance or destruction of some native animals or plants and for the disturbance of the local ecosystems (Boukhari).

But the ill consequences of marine shipping account only for 25% of ocean pollution (Boukhari 1998). Around 60% of marine pollutants come from land by getting to the sea via rivers. They pass into the ocean by direct discharge or through the atmosphere. The main reasons are the lack of sewage infrastructure, intensive agriculture and industry. In its 1997 report on The State of the Environment, the UN Environment Programme said that around 70% of discharged wastes in the Pacific had no form of prior treatment. Developing countries continue to be burdened by increasing population, lack of financial resources and expertise. Pesticides, herbicides and other poisons used in intensive agriculture may have been helping other countries by providing them affordable food. But, at the same time, the practice results in chemical products being washed off into the rivers and the seas and stunt the growth and development of marine organisms, if not destroy them. These chemicals also change the structure of marine organisms. Phosphates and nitrates in fertilizers poured into the ocean may indirectly induce red tides and asphyxiate local animals. The winds can blow agricultural pollutants across great distances. The ocean absorbs huge amounts of mineral oils, detergents, phosphates and heavy metals. These metals include cadmium, lead, copper, zinc and mercury, which are common end-products of the mining industry. Clearly, these materials can and do choke the waters. Roughly a third of atmospheric pollutants fall directly into the sea or with the rain. Of the 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide turned out by human activity every year, at two billion tons are passed on to the ocean. While it is the gigantic recycling machine for natural gases in the atmosphere, scientists still wonder if it can adapt to the effects of global warming without disturbing the ocean's balance and circulation. Greenhouse gases produced by human activities induce global warming. The Black Sea has no dissolved oxygen below 150 to 200 meters depth and thus limits thriving space for marine organisms. The Mediterranean recently seems to enter the same evolutionary process as the Black Sea. The Scripps Institute of Oceanography reported that phytoplankton had decreased by 80% since 1951 along the coast of California. Global warming appeared to be responsible. Biodiversity has notably been declining and there does not seem to be time to intervene (Boukhari).

There are 58 known dead zones on the earth, which are devoid of life (Glausiusz 2000). These are areas where fertilizer and sewage runoff feeds the runaway growth of algae. When tiny plants die, they decompose. When they decompose, they draw oxygen from the water. When this happens, the most sedentary sea animals cannot survive. Some of these animals are mussels, lobsters and clams. The Baltic Sea is the worst dead zone. A third of it, which measures more than 38,000 square miles, is lifeless. Robert Diaz of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science said that about half of all American estuaries are oxygen-deprived and starved. The condition has been aggravated by intensive farming and growing cities, which produce and expel more sewage. He predicted a doubling of the number of dead zones in the next decade (Glausiusz).

The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships signed a Protocol, called the MARPOL Protocol, on February 17, 1978 to control and prevent marine pollution from ships, oil tankers in particular (U.S. Congress 1960). It forbids the disposing of any kind of plastic materials, including synthetic ropes and fishing nets, garbage bags, floatable lining and packing materials and other garbage, into the sea.

The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships or APPS was signed on October 21, 1980 and amended in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993 and 1996. Renamed into the Marine Pollution and Research Control Act of 1987 when amended, it requires ships in U.S. waters to comply with the Protocol of the Convention and the Annex IV of the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, as amended by the Antarctic Science, Tourism and Conservation Act of 1996 (U.S. Congress).

Parties to the Antarctic Treaty committed themselves to the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment by designating the Antarctic-dependent and associated ecosystems a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science (U.S. Congress 1960). It strictly prohibits the disposing of oil, noxious substances, plastics and other wastes into the sea. The Act covers all ships of U.S. registry or nationality and operated under U.S. authority and wherever located. These are ships while in navigable waters or within the exclusive economic zone of the U.S., whether they are U.S. ships or not, and include vessels in the Antarctic region over which… [END OF PREVIEW]

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