Pollution in the oceans continues to expand, worsen, and in many countries is not well controlled. Pollution consisting of a complex mixture of various substances ranging from toxic metals, plastics, manufactured chemicals, petroleum, urban and industrial waste, pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceutical chemicals, agricultural runoff, and household waste, human waste, continues to accumulate in in the sea.
This disgusting behavior continues without a complete solution due to the “strange” behavior of humans who continue to damage their own environment. Even though humans are aware that the dangerous impact of this pollution will in turn reduce the quality of life and harm their health, as well as their children and grandchildren in the future.
The findings, harmful impacts and solutions of ocean pollution are described in detail in a recent study entitled “Human Health and Ocean Pollution” published in the Annals of Global Health Journal. Philip J. Landrigan from Boston College, United States led the study.
The research team found that more than 80% of pollution in the oceans comes from land. This pollution reaches the oceans through rivers, runoff, deposition from the atmosphere and direct discharge to the sea by irresponsible people. Most pollution is found near the coast and accumulates along the coast in poor and developing countries. The research team noted that plastic pollution increased the most. It is estimated that 10 million metric tons of plastic waste enter the sea every year.
Apart from plastics, the seas are also constantly plagued by heavy metal pollution, namely mercury. This pollution according to the research team is released from two main sources – burning coal which carries toxic mercury through its combustion fumes and from small-scale gold mining.
Industrial-scale agriculture around the world also pollutes the oceans with increased use of chemical fertilizers which triggers the expansion of dangerous algae that can poison fish and shellfish species, and create dead zones in the oceans. According to the research team, these chemical pollutants were found to pollute the oceans and marine organisms everywhere, in the deepest ravines, to the Arctic continent in the Arctic.
Impact on the Ecosystem
Marine pollution has a negative impact on marine ecosystems. These impacts are exacerbated by global climate change. According to the research team, petroleum-based pollutants will inhibit photosynthesis in marine microorganisms that produce oxygen.
Meanwhile, an increase in the absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2) by organisms in the sea will cause an increase in the acidity of sea water, damage coral reefs, disrupt the development of shellfish, and kill microorganisms that are a source of calcium for the entire food network in the sea. Increased absorption of CO2 will also increase the toxic effects (toxicity) of some pollutants.
Plastic pollution threatens marine mammals, fish and seabirds. Plastic pollution in these oceans continues to drift and accumulate in large ocean eddies. This plastic will break down into microplastic and nanoplastic particles that contain chemicals that pollute the tissues of marine organisms, including species that are consumed by humans. Industrial pollution, runoff and household waste will increase the growth of harmful algae, bacterial pollution, and anti-microbial resistance.
Pollution and rising sea surface temperatures trigger the migration of dangerous pathogens such as Vibrio species (gram-negative bacteria) towards cooler poles. The research team concluded that industrial waste, pharmaceutical waste, pesticides and human waste contribute to the global decline in fish stocks which will reduce the welfare of fishermen around the world, including in Indonesia’s maritime country.
Impact on Health
Now is the time to discuss the impact of ocean pollution on health. The research team found that the disposal of garbage and waste containing heavy metals such as methylmercury and PCBs will damage health from infants who are still in the womb to adult humans.
Babies who are still in the womb are exposed to pollutants when pregnant women eat seafood contaminated by this heavy metal. The impact is great! Heavy metal pollution can damage brain development, reduce children’s intelligence / IQ, and increase the risk of autism, ADHD, and learning disorders in children.
Meanwhile, exposure to methylmercury in adults will increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia. Other chemicals – produced from plastic waste – can interfere with endocrine signaling, reduce male fertility, damage the nervous system and increase the risk of cancer.
Harmful algae also produce powerful toxins which accumulate in fish and shellfish. When ingested, these toxins can cause severe nerve damage and rapid death. Toxins from harmful algae can also spread through the air and trigger respiratory disease. Meanwhile, marine pathogenic bacterial infections cause gastrointestinal diseases and deep wound infections.
Climate change and increased pollution will also increase the risk of spreading Vibrio infection (gram-negative bacteria), which causes diseases such as cholera, to new territories. The most disadvantaged, according to the research team, is the poor and vulnerable population in the southern hemisphere or what is known as the Global South (Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceania), which triggers environmental injustice on a planetary scale.
The research team concluded that marine pollution is a global problem. Pollution arises from multiple sources and crosses national borders. “This is a consequence of the reckless, petty and unsustainable exploitation of the earth’s resources,” they wrote. This human behavior harms marine ecosystems, inhibits the production of atmospheric oxygen, increases risks to human health. “There are still many who do not fully understand this issue,” write the researchers. Meanwhile, “The economic losses are just beginning to be calculated.”
The good news, according to the research team, is of course, marine pollution can be prevented. Like all forms of pollution, marine pollution can be controlled by implementing data-based strategies based on laws, policies, technology and law enforcement that target priority sources of pollution.
Many countries have used this tool to control water and air pollution and are now applying it to ocean pollution. The successes achieved to date represent the opportunity to exercise control over pollution in the oceans. There are heavily polluted harbors that have been successfully cleared, estuaries rejuvenated, and coral reefs restored.
Apart from health benefits, prevention of marine pollution also creates many benefits. Such as improving the economy, tourism, helping to restore fisheries, and improving human health and well-being, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “These benefits will last for centuries,” they wrote.
It is foolish if mistakes are repeated, failed policies are maintained, knowledge and research results are not utilized to prevent further damage to the environment and the oceans.
To that end, the research team recommends world leaders, who are aware of the severity of marine pollution, to acknowledge the dangers of this increasing pollution of the oceans. They are expected to engage civil society and global society, and take bold, evidence-based action to stop pollution at its source! Which will be very important to prevent marine pollution and maintain human health.
According to the research team, preventing pollution from its land-based sources is key. Eliminating coal burning and banning all mercury use would reduce mercury pollution. A ban on single-use plastics and better management of plastic waste will reduce plastic pollution. The ban on the use of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) has reduced pollution from PCBs and DDT.
Control of industrial disposal, sewage treatment, and reducing the use of chemical fertilizers can reduce coastal pollution and reduce the growth of toxic and harmful algae. This national, regional and international marine pollution control program must be adequately funded and supported by strong law enforcement. The research team said that close monitoring efforts are essential to track the progress of these efforts.
The next intervention required is a large-scale transition to renewable energy; the transition to a circular economy that is fair and resource-efficient; turn to environmentally friendly chemicals and build scientific capacity in all countries.
The government is also asked to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that will protect critical ecosystems, protect vulnerable fish stocks, and improve human health and well-being. “The formation of the MPA is an important manifestation of national and international commitments to maintain marine health,” wrote the research team.
Dangers are identified, benefits described, solutions provided. Great commitment is needed to execute these solutions to improve quality – not only the environment – but also people. Their behavior and mentality!