Term Paper: World's Oceans

Pages: 10 (3142 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Drama - World  ·  Buy This Paper

Environmental Science

The World's Oceans

The Economic Value of Oceans to Americans

Waste Dumping in our Oceans

Oil Contamination from Various Sources

Toxins and Trash Entering the Oceans

The Depleted Fisheries

The Vanishing Wetlands

The World's Oceans: New Studies Reveal Threats and Possible Solutions

The world's oceans are vast - in fact, they make up over two-thirds (70%) of our planet's surface - and they are cavernous enough to hide the deepest valleys on earth, hide the longest mountain ranges, and under the surfaces of earth's oceans lie most of the active volcanoes. And while the world's scientists are able to send robots to Mars, Saturn and its moon titan, and explore the universe through the powerful Hubble Telescope, there is much to unknown and yet to be learned about the oceans here on earth.

Indeed, "...human eyes and scientific probes have seen a scant five percent of the vast underwater world, leaving oceanographers and biologists to grumble that we know more about the surface of Mars and the dark side of the moon than we do about our own oceans," according to an article in U.S. News & World Report (Hayden, 2004).

Meanwhile, that being said, there exists an extraordinary amount of empirical scientific information about the oceans, and much of it is disturbing, because mankind has not been kind to the ocean and its living organisms. From the textbook by Sverdrup, et al., which has a wealth of ocean-related information, richly presented in a format that is historical, scientific, and yet contemporary, many facts and issues relating to the problems associated with oceans can be examined.

Hence, this paper will use the textbook to back up some of the serious issues raised through recent research conducted by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy - in particular, the ongoing and future pollution threats to ocean waters, citizens, and marine life - and also, journal articles will supplement the paper and the topics being reviewed.

The Literature on Oceans and Challenges to Sustaining Healthy Oceans

The Economic Value of Oceans to Americans: As to the importance that oceans have for the United States, its people and its economy, the area of ocean water within American jurisdiction is larger than the actual U.S. land mass; the U.S. has jurisdiction over 3.4 million square nautical miles. Moreover, "ocean-related activities directly contributed more than $117 billion to American prosperity and supported well over two million jobs" (Watkins, 2004). In fact, the commission report continues, "more than $1 trillion (one-tenth of the GNP) is generated within the...nearshore zone."

As expected, a high-profile report such as the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy's findings, contains a great deal of financial data, which will be briefly addressed: a) more than $4.5 trillion is contributed to the national economy by coastal wastershed counties; b) America's ports handle $700 billion in merchandize annually; c) yearly cruise industry business exceeds $12 billion; d) offshore oil and gas exploration is valued at $40 billion annually, and $5 billion is collected by the U.S. Treasury through oil and gas royalty payments; e) Further, revenue from commercial fisheries exceeds $28 billion, and recreational saltwater fishing is valued at $20 billion.

Beyond the financial data, the report also notes that "over half the U.S. population lives in coastal watersheds": on page 13 of Chapter 1 of the report, readers learn that in ten years, the coasts of American "will have absorbed more than 58 million additional residents since 1970," or, more than 1.1 million new people per year.

Waste Dumping in our Oceans: All those new residents, along with the industrialization and economic growth associated with the skyrocketing population, according to Sverdrup's textbook (Chapter 12), "have caused a rapid increase in the production of waste material." In fact, among the "objectives" of Chapter 12 is to show the reader that "modification of natural processes without full understanding" of the environmental consequences is "perhaps a dangerous thing." The text points out that one of the major ways of getting rid of industrial waste "is dumping at sea." and, to back up that fact, between 1890 and 1971, 1.4 million m3 of solid waste have been "dumped at sea," and beyond that, the text explains that over "8 million tons of sewage sludge" was dumped each year until it was prohibited in 1992. And even though sewage sludge is no longer being dumped into the oceans, "many toxic compounds and nutrients still find their way to the oceans by agricultural runoff."

And the problem with toxins seeping into the ocean is that they end up as part of the food source for marine animals, and "accumulate in the tissues" of organisms and "may be concentrated up the food chain." The text goes on to mention that sea scallops have had levels of cadmium "2 million times higher than the water" - and that mercury in shellfish results in mercury poisoning, birth defects, and death, for people who eat the shellfish.

Oil Contamination from Various Sources: The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy reports that more than 28 million gallons of oil from human activities enter North American waters annually, but, according to an article in Issues in Science and Technology, "the bulk of human-related inputs is not due to large-scale spills and accidents that occur during the transport of crude oil or petroleum products" (Rabalais, 2003). In fact, researchers looking for sources of oil that runs into America's oceans can look into the "chronic low-level releases" of oil that add up to "roughly 16 million gallons of oil" annually, running down rivers and streams, according to the Rabalais article.

These oil pollutants "are most obvious in the watersheds that drain heavily populated areas," and the data from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, plus the Sverdrup textbook, indicate that coast areas are becoming more and more heavily populated. Some of the 16 million gallons draining originates with "jettisoned aircraft fuel, marine recreational vehicles, and operational discharges, such as cargo washings and releases from petroleum extraction."

While major oil spills get a lot of media coverage - because of "oil-coated shorelines and dad or moribund wildlife (900 bald eagles, 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters and 300 harbor seals were killed following the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska) - oil pollution can have more subtle biological effects, the Rabalais article explains. "Oil can remain in the environment for a long time," she writes. Evidence points to continued exposure of marine life to the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez - "the oil was still toxic and appeared to be chemically unchanged since its release more than a decade earlier."

This fact is collaborated by Sverdrup's textbook: "In the cold environment of Prince William Sound the photochemical and microbial degradation of the oil proceeded slower than expected.")

Indeed, scientists who studied salt marshes in Massachusetts - that had been covered by fuel oil in a spill 30 years earlier - "recently reported that oil is still present in sediments at depths of 6 to 28 centimeters."

Moreover, Rabalais, who chairs the National Research Council's Oceans Studies Board, and is a professor at the Louisiana Marine Universities Marine Consortium, says researchers from federal and private agencies should be monitoring the coastlines not just for "oil and grease" - "as is now the case" - but for "total hydrocarbons, as well as a particular class of compounds called polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)."

Growing evidence, she concludes, indicates that "even at very low levels of concentrations, PAHs carried in crude oil or refined products can have adverse effects on biota."

Toxins and Trash Entering the Oceans: And in addition, to oil entering coastal waters, there is also, justifiably, a great concern about the release of untreated human pathogens, pharmaceuticals, toxic substances and chlorinate hydrocarbons." For people who enjoy the beach, the year 2003 was not a good year; the commission report states that "more than 18,000 days of beach closings and swimming advisories" were issued around the U.S., very frequently due to "bacteria associated with fecal contamination from stormwater and sewer overflows."

Those 18,000 days of beach closings represent a 50% increase over the year 2002, "continuing a rising trend... [and costing] many million dollars a year in "decreased revenues from tourism and recreation and higher costs for health care," the report stressed.

How many people are afflicted by marine toxins annually around the globe? The commission report states that 90,000 people are afflicted world-wide and those marine toxins are responsible for "an estimated 62% of all seafood-related illnesses." Here in the U.S., the report continues, contaminated fish, shellfish, and other marine organisms can be held accountable for "at least one in six food poisoning outbreaks," and for 15% of the deaths associated with these toxin incidents.

What else is dumped in the ocean? The text reports 135,000 tons of plastic trash gets dumped out of fishing and naval vessels annually, along with 149,000 tons of "fishing gear (nets, ropes, traps, and buoys) made mostly of plastic is lost or discarded by the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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