The Impact of Ocean Pollution – How It Affects Human and How It Can be Controlled

Author: Mingrui Xie
Mentor: Dr. Maria Carolina Gallego Iradi
Dehong International Chinese School


The paper aims to illustrate three possible pollutants, including but not limited to chemical pollution, oil pollution, and plastic pollution. Research of their negative impacts on both nature and humans; Suggests three possible solutions’ work theory that may alter the impacts, at the same time mentioned the possible potential factors of using these methods.

1. Introduction

The oceans are the origin of Earth and life, providing the basic elements. In the contemporary century, the ocean provides not only for the lives of human civilization but also as a part of the media to help develop the future of humans. Meanwhile, the ocean also plays a role in “garbage bags” containing pollution from humans and industries.

Ocean pollution or marine pollution is defined as “the introduction by man, directly or indirectly, of substances or energy into the marine environment … which results or is likely to result in such deleterious effects as harm to living resources and marine life.” by the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. (Marine Pollution, 2019) This includes but is not limited to toxic chemicals, oil released, and plastics wastes.

2. Pollutants

There are a variety of marine pollutants that affect the ocean environment’s quality and indirectly influence human behaviors. Below is the Water Cycle graph from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) by Water Science School. This diagram explains how ocean pollution would obliquely affect the health of humans and why people need to pay attention to it. The ocean can provide evaporated water into the water cycle. The source water, most frequently the bodies of water such as the rivers, are connected to the ocean. In the other words, the waste, including toxins that are released into rivers will flow into the oceans from numerous sources.

Fig.1. The Water Cycle, by Water Science School, United States Geological Survey

2.1. Chemical pollution

Chemical pollution can be separated into different types that are mostly man-made. Two categories of this pollution are the pollutants from the chemical industry and household chemicals (Chemical Pollution, n.d.). Examples are mostly pesticides in agriculture, toxic elements produced or used in plants or industrial processes, and personal daily-use products. Ocean Pollution results from pollutants that vary depending on different environments and circumstances. According to the Surfrider, Foundation Europe (2020), the use of pesticides has increased by approximately 25 percent in the last decade (Foundation, 2020), which is directly attributed to negative water quality. Once the pesticides or similar toxic pollutants spilled on the land, they would penetrate the soil and sink into the groundwater.

Some of the most significant toxic pollutants are contaminants that are bioaccumulated and teratogens. (Marine Pollution, 2019). One of the most well-known examples of a human disease brought on by chemical pollution from industries is Minamata Disease, as well as methylmercury (MeHg) poisoning which was first discovered in 1956 in Minamata Bay, Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan. This disease is a poisoning neurological disease, in which methylmercury would destroy the central nervous system. 1It began with a high concentration of methylmercury as a byproduct of reaction chambers from a chemical company, Chisso, which is associated with coastal people’s consumption of marine species that are massively contaminated by the chemical pollutants. While dissolving into the ocean, it contains a high concentration of 2,000 ppm of mercury in Minamata Bay, which is significantly higher than the ICP-OES system’s instrument detection limit (IDL) of ~0.005 ppm of mercury. Fig. 2. demonstrates the procedure of how humans getting become influenced by chemical pollution. The factory first used mercury- catalyzer in production. During this process, Methylmercury had been created as the by-product. Then it was released with the wastewater and poured into the ocean. According to the food chain theory, the methylmercury digested by bacteria and fishes, of it may sink to the bottom as sediments. Finally, humans can come in contact with methylmercury via the contaminated fish which had been caught by humans. When humans intake the toxic marine species, they will get the disease because of the excess methylmercury. (Harada, 1995)

Fig. 2. Scheme of How the Methylmercury Compound is Transmitted from the Acetaldehyde Manufacturing Process
to Human Body, from Ministry of the Environment, Government of Japan.

2.2. Oil Pollution

Compared with other pollutants, oil spills are often the hardest to clean when in the ocean. The spills can be created by either natural disasters such as hurricanes or caused by human negligence in the restoration of the oil. (Oil spills: A major marine ecosystem threat, n.d.). Since the density of most of the oils is around 0.9 grams per cubic centimeter (depending on different types of oil), which is less dense than the water density of 1 gram per cubic centimeter and the ocean density of 1.03 grams per cubic centimeter, the oil floats on the surface of the ocean and other bodies of the water. Nevertheless, oil spills on the ocean that are offshore are comparably hard to clean, in consideration of the oil continuing to move with the ocean currents, the cleanup area will expand, which adds the burden on the workforce, as mentioned by the U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs Jeannine Shaye, at a press conference. (Resnicl-ault, 2021)

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are two significant components that created crude oil (The toxic of oil: what’s the big deal, n.d.). If the oil is in high concentrations, marine species would get harmed by it both internally and externally.

2.3. Plastic Pollution

According to the UN Environment Program, plastic production has increased since the 1970s. Nowadays, there are 400 million tons of plastic waste per year, and around 36 percent of the plastics are from packaging. What is more, the UN has estimated that 75 to 199 million tons of plastic are currently been detected in the ocean; 1,000 rivers around the world release nearly 80 percent of global riverine plastic. Some plastics may be soluble in water, however, there is still part of them decomposing into small particles, these are called “microplastics”. United Nations announced about 51 trillion microplastic particles were released into the ocean. (United Nations environment programme, n.d.) Microplastics can commonly be found in daily use water, and mainly come from synthetic textiles. Synthetic textiles are created from washing clothes. An article called “The Contribution of Washing Processes of Synthetic Clothes to Microplastic Pollution” claimed that “the most abundant fractions of microfibers shed were retained by filters with a pore size of 60 μm, presenting an average length of 360–660 μm and an average diameter of 12–16 μm.” This data reflects that these microplastics have the ability to get through the wastewater treatment plants and finally flow into the ocean, bringing risk to the quality of the ocean. Plastics and microplastics have persistent toxic influences. Especially for microplastics which are small particles that are not obviously distinguishable by marine species, accidentally swallowing these plastics leads to indigestion. As previously mentioned, toxic elements can be indirectly absorbed by people through the food chain, while people catch these poisoned marine species such as the fishes, and eat them, the plastic particles may be accumulated in the human body that caused potential health problems.

3. Solutions

3.1. Education

Solving issues from the root cause is critically significant. Workers and factories should keep this in mind to minimize harmful and toxic product emissions. At the same time, increasing the general people’s awareness and motivation for clean oceans is equally as crucial. Motivating people to start to think greenly and behave more sustainably as individuals, such as cleaning the beach or reducing, reusing, and recycling is a necessity, as is having the awareness to refuse to use plastic bags while shopping. It is significant to interpret the interrelationships between humans and nature, and this concept is a defining principle of “Environmental Psychology”.

3.2. Sustainable Energy

As the EPA mentioned earlier, “Burning fossil fuels at power plants creates emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX), particulate matter (PM), carbon dioxide (CO2), mercury (Hg), and other pollutants.” Sustainable energy can be an effective method to diminish these pollutant emissions. Excluding the pollutant gas that may be released during the construction process, the entire power generation process is completed by natural phenomena, which effectively reduces the waste and pollutant gases emission by the construction and production process from ordinary plants. Two prevalent sources of renewable energy can replace burning fossils: Tidal Energy, and Wind Energy.

Tidal energy, just as its name says, it generates electricity by harnessing the energy generated by the tides. The level of tidal energy depends on the planetary system between the Sun, the Earth, and the Moon. The change in the positions of these three planets will alter the magnitude between each planet. The gravitational pull from the moon to the Earth and the Earth’s rotational force itself is the key to determining how high or low the tide is. Such an astronomical phenomenon may result in unstable tidal energy being produced. Meanwhile, the sharp design of the turbines may kill marine species and mammals if they are trapped in them. What is more, while the ocean water flows through the turbines, the change of the natural currents may influence some species and plants under the ocean also.

Wind energy is divided into two different systems: land-based wind conversion system and offshore wind energy conversion system. Contrasting with the land-based wind conversion system, the offshore wind energy conversion system has a smaller land occupation rate and sufficient wind. Similar to tidal energy, renewable powers are changeable due to weather changes. (Tidal Power, n.d.)

3.3. Organic Foods

Organic foods are food such as vegetables and fruits that are grown without synthetic chemicals. This method may not be the best. In keeping with modern research, planting organic foods contains fewer pesticide residues compared with inorganic foods, which make sure the human body’s health. From “Organic foods contain higher levels of certain nutrients, lower levels of pesticides, and may provide health benefits for the consumer”, which revealed that there has strong evidence that organic foods contain more Vitamin C and phosphorus than conventional foods. However, there is still a lack of direct evidence to help to claim that health benefits are the result of eating organic foods. Also, the costs of organic foods are much higher than conventional foods; it is tough to find 100 percent organic foods, The downside of organic food is that they aren’t worth the higher price.

4. Conclusion

Ocean pollution has and will continue to negatively impact our daily life, and solving this issue will inevitably require our daily awareness of change. As this paper mentioned, the relatively obvious factors that cause the pollution are mostly produced due to industrialization, and the ones that are easily overlooked come from pesticides from agriculture, or the microfibers and water mixed with laundry detergent from washing clothes, a commonplace activity of daily life. Undoubtedly, these pollutions have already made irreparable harm to the environment. Although it is impossible to fully reverse the impact that has been made, people are trying to find some methods to reduce the pollution from the root, or to stifle the way pollution is spread. What is more, there is no absolutely perfect way to solve this pollution problem. These methods may bring some other effects; however, people can try their best to minimize these potential negative effects.

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About the author

Mingrui Xie

Mary is currently a 10th grader at the Dehong International Chinese School. She is interested in nature sciences and art.