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Oceans pollution: causes and consequences


The problem of pollution of the oceans is one of the most acute and urgent today. Is it possible to solve it in modern conditions?

The ocean, as you know, is the beginning of the beginnings, the foundation of all life on our planet. After all, it was in him that the first living organisms in our geological history were born. The oceans occupy over 70% of the planet’s surface. In addition, it contains about 95% of all water. That is why pollution of the oceans is so dangerous for the geographic envelope of the planet. And today this problem is becoming more acute.

Oceans - the water shell of the planet

The ocean is a single and integral water body of the Earth, washing the mainland land. The term itself has Latin (or Greek) roots: "oceanus". The total area of ​​the oceans is 361 million square kilometers, which is approximately 71% of the entire surface of our planet. It is generally accepted that it consists of water masses - relatively large volumes of water, each of which is distinguished by its physicochemical properties.

In the structure of the oceans we can distinguish:

  • oceans (there are 5 of them, according to the International Hydrographic Organization: Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Arctic and Southern, which have been singled out since 2000),
  • seas (according to the accepted classification, there are internal, inter-island, inter-continental and marginal),
  • bays and bays
  • straits
  • estuaries.

Ocean pollution is an important environmental problem of the 21st century

Every day, various chemicals enter the soil and surface water. This is the result of the functioning of thousands of industrial enterprises that operate across the planet. These are oil and oil products, gasoline, pesticides, fertilizers, nitrates, mercury and other harmful compounds. All of them, as a rule, fall into the ocean. There, these substances are deposited and accumulate in huge quantities.

Pollution of the oceans is a process that is associated with the intake of harmful substances of anthropogenic origin in its water area. Because of this, the quality of sea water is deteriorating, as well as significant damage to all inhabitants of the Ocean.

It is known that each year, only as a result of natural processes, about 25 million tons of iron, 350 thousand tons of zinc and copper, 180 thousand tons of lead enter the seas. All this, moreover, is at times aggravated by anthropogenic influence.

The most dangerous ocean pollutant today is oil. From five to ten million tons of it annually poured into the sea waters of the planet. Fortunately, thanks to the current level of satellite technology, violators can be calculated and punished. However, the problem of pollution of the oceans remains almost the most acute in modern environmental management. And its solution requires the consolidation of forces of the entire world community.

Causes of oceans pollution

Why is the ocean polluted? What are the causes of these sad processes? They lie primarily in the irrational, and sometimes even aggressive, human behavior in the field of environmental management. People do not understand (or do not want to realize) the possible consequences of their negative actions on nature.

To date, it is known that pollution of the oceans occurs in three main ways:

  • through the runoff of river systems (the shelf zones are most polluted, as well as areas near the mouths of large rivers),
  • through precipitation (so lead and mercury get into the Ocean, first of all),
  • due to the unreasonable economic activity of man directly in the oceans.

Scientists have found that the main route of pollution is river flow (up to 65% of pollutants enter the oceans through rivers). About 25% falls on precipitation, another 10% - on wastewater, less than 1% - on emissions from marine vessels. It is for these reasons that the pollution of the oceans occurs. The photos presented in this article clearly illustrate the severity of this pressing problem. Surprisingly, the water without which a person will not live even a day is actively polluted by him.

Types and main sources of pollution of the oceans

Environmentalists identify several types of ocean pollution. It:

  • physical
  • biological (contamination by bacteria and various microorganisms),
  • chemical (pollution by chemicals and heavy metals),
  • oil
  • thermal (pollution by heated waters discharged by TPPs and NPPs),
  • radioactive
  • transport (pollution by sea modes of transport - tankers and ships, as well as submarines),
  • household.

There are also various sources of pollution of the oceans, which can be both natural (for example, sand, clay or mineral salts), and anthropogenic origin. Among the latter, the most dangerous are the following:

  • oil and oil products,
  • wastewater,
  • chemicals
  • heavy metals,
  • radioactive waste
  • plastic waste
  • mercury.

Consider these pollutants in more detail.

Oil and oil products

The most dangerous and widespread today is the oil pollution of the ocean. Up to ten million tons of oil is discharged into it annually. About two million more are carried into the ocean by river runoff.

The largest oil spill occurred in 1967 off the coast of Great Britain. As a result of the collapse of the tanker Torrey Canyon, then over 100 thousand tons of oil spilled into the sea.

Oil enters the sea during the drilling or operation of oil wells in the oceans (up to one hundred thousand tons per year). Once in sea water, it forms the so-called "oil spills" or "oil spills" a few centimeters thick in the upper layer of the water mass. Namely, it is known that a very large number of living organisms live in it.

Amazingly, about two to four percent of the Atlantic’s area is constantly covered in oil films! They are also dangerous because heavy metals and pesticides are concentrated in them, which additionally poison the ocean waters.

The pollution of the oceans by oil and oil products has extremely negative consequences, namely:

  • violation of energy and heat transfer between the layers of water masses,
  • decreased albedo of seawater,
  • the death of many marine life,
  • pathological changes in the organs and tissues of living organisms.

The oceans are ...

More than 70% of the surface of our planet is covered with water. The volume of water in the oceans is huge - 1370 million cubic kilometers. The oceans are conventionally divided by the continents into the Arctic, Indian, Pacific and Atlantic. The ocean forms a climate on the planet: currents bring cold or heat with them, and water, evaporating from the surface of the oceans, forms clouds. If we talk about humanity in general, then more than 100 million people live on the coast, their life is somehow connected with the sea. However, this can be said about each of us, even those who have never seen the sea. After all, it is in this gigantic “weather factory” that rain falls in the central regions, about 90% of all fish is extracted here, oil is often pumped from the bowels of the ocean, and cargo moves along the seas.

If humanity for some reason lost the opportunity to use the resources of the ocean, the economy would stop, and the world would plunge into chaos. However, due to such intensive and often irresponsible use, the oceans are now in serious danger.


Pollution of the oceans by wastewater is perhaps the second most harmful. The most dangerous are the waste from chemical and metallurgical enterprises, textile and pulp mills, as well as agricultural complexes. Initially, they merge into rivers and other bodies of water, and later one way or another fall into the oceans.

Specialists from two large cities - Los Angeles and Marseille - are actively involved in solving this acute problem. Using satellite observations and underwater surveys, scientists monitor the volume of dumped effluents, as well as monitor their movement in the ocean.

Chemicals that enter this huge body of water in various ways also have a very negative effect on ecosystems. Particularly dangerous is the pollution of the oceans by pesticides, in particular - aldrin, endrin and dieldrin. These chemicals have the ability to accumulate in the tissues of living organisms, while so far no one can say for sure how they affect the latter.

In addition to pesticides, tributyltin chloride, which is used to color ship keels, has an extremely negative effect on the organic world of the ocean.

Ocean Pollution - Environmental Issue # 1

The development of civilization has led to increased pollution of the oceans. The situation began to worsen around the middle of the twentieth century, which was associated with the development of the chemical and oil refining industries. Today, several types of pollution can be distinguished:

    physical. Garbage, and especially plastic, which practically does not decompose, is a huge problem for the ecology of the oceans. Millions of tons of plastic waste drift along the surface of the oceans, and, according to experts, 80% of this garbage fell into the ocean from land and only 20% was dumped or washed off ships. Garbage harms more than 250 species of marine animals and birds and releases toxic substances into the water,

Interesting fact

Garbage thrown into the ocean forms the most real floating continents, the most famous of whichPacific trash spot that can be seen even from the ISS. This is a giant collection of garbage in the North Pacific. The spot area, according to the most optimistic estimates, is at least 700 thousand square kilometers. On this spot two Germany could be placed.

On a note

WWF experts have calculated the cost of all resources of the oceans. The figure is impressive24.2 trillion dollars, but experts themselves say that it, in fact, is underestimated, since many resources are difficult to value in terms of money.

Oil and oil products, waste water, chemicals, heavy metals, radioactive waste, mercury and plastic are the main sources of pollution of the oceans. It is difficult to say which type of pollution is most dangerous - all of them, to one degree or another, affect the ecosystem of the planet, including humans. For example, toxins can accumulate in the tissues of commercial fish, making them unsuitable for ingestion. Thus, very high mercury content is often found in tuna from the Adriatic Sea, and lead content is often increased in fish from the northern seas. Poisoning with seafood containing toxins can be fatal: Minamata disease, caused by poisoning with seafood with a high mercury content, claimed the lives of at least 70 people.

The flowering of coastal waters caused by the dumping of organic waste and fertilizers makes them unsuitable for fishing, as fish perishes in flowering water. This not only robs gourmets of marine delicacies, but also takes away the work of hundreds of thousands of people. Against this backdrop, turning paradise beaches into fetid dumps seems the lesser of a problem.

Heavy metals

Environmentalists are extremely concerned about the pollution of the oceans with heavy metals. In particular, this is due to the fact that their percentage in sea waters has only recently been growing.

The most dangerous are heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, copper, nickel, arsenic, chromium and tin. So, now annually up to 650 thousand tons of lead enters the World Ocean. And the tin content in the sea waters of the planet is already three times higher than the generally accepted norm dictates.

Ways to solve: world level

All this cannot but cause concern, therefore, many countries have long been trying to correct the situation or at least minimize the harm that human activity causes to the oceans.

For example, in France, a law was passed regulating the location of water intake and discharge points for factories and plants; helicopters regularly patrol the sea coast, whose task is to monitor tanker discharges. A high-tech and effective solution to the problem of discharges was found in Sweden - the capacities of each tanker are marked with special isotopes, so scientists analyzing oil spills can always determine which particular vessel was discharged from.

At the initiative of the UN, many important international agreements were signed that regulate the use of the resources of the World Ocean, oil production, etc. Perhaps the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, signed in 1982 by most countries, gained the greatest popularity. There are also various world and regional conventions: the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Materials of 1972, the International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage of 1971 and 1974, the International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with transportation of dangerous and harmful substances by sea from 1996 and others.

On a note

If no measures are taken, in the next 25 years the rate of pollution of the oceans may increase threefold.

Plastic waste

The 21st century is the era of plastic. Tons of plastic waste are now in the oceans, and their quantity is only increasing. Few people know that there are whole "plastic" islands of huge size. To date, five such “spots” are known - accumulations of plastic waste. Two of them are in the Pacific Ocean, two more are in the Atlantic, and one is in the Indian.

Such waste is dangerous in that its small parts often swallow marine fish, as a result of which all of them, as a rule, die.

Pollution control of the oceans in Russia

In Russia, water pollution issues are addressed at the legislative level by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Fisheries, the Ministry of Geology and the State Committee for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring. To solve practical problems, 200 institutes, laboratories and scientific associations were involved in the work. Active work is underway to create treatment facilities: in recent years, about 5,000 treatment plants have been commissioned.

Enormous work is being done by environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, WWF and others. For example, WWF has a marine program, the purpose of which is to preserve the biological diversity of the Russian seas. In our country, this is especially true, since approximately one fifth of the world's oceans are under Russian jurisdiction.

Each year, a total of about 15 billion tons of pollutants are dumped into the oceans. And each of us makes his own, albeit relatively small, contribution to the pollution of the sea. One plastic bottle left on the beach, or one drop of chemical detergent in the sewers, seems like a trifle. But it is precisely from such "trifles" that the gigantic garbage islands consist. The cleanliness of the oceans is our common responsibility.

Radioactive waste

Little has been studied, and therefore the consequences of pollution of the oceans with radioactive waste are extremely unpredictable. They get there in different ways: as a result of dropping containers of hazardous waste, testing nuclear weapons, or as a result of the operation of nuclear submarine reactors. It is known that in the period from 1964 to 1986, the Soviet Union alone dumped about 11,000 containers of radioactive waste into the Arctic Ocean.

Scientists estimate that today in the oceans contains 30 times more radioactive substances than was released as a result of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Also, a huge amount of deadly waste fell into the oceans after a large-scale accident at the Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant in Japan.

A substance such as mercury can be very dangerous for the oceans. And not so much for a reservoir as for a person who eats "seafood". After all, it is known that mercury is able to accumulate in the tissues of fish and mollusks, turning into even more toxic organic forms.

So, the story of the Minamato Bay in Japan is notorious, where the locals were seriously poisoned by eating seafood from this reservoir. As it turned out, they were infected precisely with mercury, which was dumped into the ocean by a nearby plant.

Thermal pollution

Another type of marine pollution is the so-called thermal pollution. The reason for it is the discharge of waters, the temperature of which is significantly higher than the average in the Ocean. The main sources of heated water are thermal and nuclear power plants.

Thermal pollution of the oceans leads to violations of its thermal and biological regime, degrades fish spawning, and also destroys zooplankton. So, as a result of specially conducted studies, it was found that at water temperatures from +26 to +30 degrees, the vital processes of fish are inhibited. But if the temperature of sea water rises above +34 degrees, then some species of fish and other living organisms may even die.

Очевидно, что последствия интенсивного загрязнения морских вод могут быть катастрофическими для экосистем. Некоторые из них уже видны даже сейчас. Therefore, a number of multilateral treaties have been adopted to protect the oceans, both at the interstate and regional levels. They include numerous activities, as well as solutions to the pollution of the oceans. In particular, these are:

  • limiting emissions of harmful, toxic and toxic substances into the ocean,
  • measures aimed at preventing possible accidents on ships and tankers,
  • pollution reduction from plants that are involved in the development of the subsoil,
  • measures aimed at quick and high-quality emergency response,
  • toughening sanctions and fines for unauthorized release of harmful substances into the ocean,
  • a complex of educational and propaganda measures for the formation of rational and environmentally reasonable behavior of the population, etc.


Thus, it is obvious that pollution of the oceans is the most important environmental problem of our century. And we must fight it. Today, there are many dangerous ocean pollutants: oil, oil products, various chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals and radioactive waste, sewage, plastics and the like. To solve this acute problem, the consolidation of all the forces of the world community will be required, as well as the strict and rigorous implementation of accepted standards and existing regulations in the field of environmental protection.

What can everyone do to solve the global environmental problems of the ocean?

The work to prevent pollution of the oceans is huge and complex. It should be carried out systematically, not only from bottom to top, but also from top to bottom - through legislative initiatives. WWF's offshore program was designed for just that. The Fund supports the creation of national marine parks and develops criteria for the allocation of specially protected natural areas, develops sustainable fishing, conducts studies proving the harm to human activities. This work is carried out not out of a pure love of science, but for an argumentative dialogue with politicians with the authority to authorize or prohibit. WWF actively cooperates with legislative bodies, however, it also takes practical steps: many people remember the action of the fund for saving birds affected by oil spills.

However, all legislative initiatives cannot save the lives of fish, animals and birds that depend on the oceans. What is needed here is first of all human initiative. WWF helps save nature, but the foundation itself needs help. It exists mainly on private donations, and even if you do not have time to participate in WWF shares, you can support the fund financially. For the convenience of supporters, a whole system of nature friends clubs has been developed for individuals and partnership programs for organizations - you can choose the program that seems most important to you. Even the smallest contribution is a significant help in solving global environmental problems.

P. S. The World Wide Fund for Nature is the largest international conservation organization. You can learn more about WWF programs and take part in them on the fund's website.