As one example, the ocean provides more than half of the oxygen in the atmosphere, and absorbs the most carbon from the atmosphere (protectplanetocean.org)
Further to that, ocean-based businesses also contribute more than $500 billion to the world’s economy (protectplanetocean.org).
In this guide, we look at some of the biggest problems for our oceans, coasts and marine life.
We also look at some potential solutions to address these problems.
Summary – Biggest Problems For Oceans, Coast, & Marine Life, & Potential Ways To Start Solving These Problems
Destructive fishing practices
Predators are being killed, and other marine life are being killed perhaps unnecessarily
Ocean dead zones, eutrophication and algal blooms
Irresponsible fish farming
Overall reduction in biodiversity
Offshore drilling and mining
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing
Melting ice caps
Lack of protection
Coastline tourism and development
Limits and regulations on types and quantities of fishing allowed
More sustainable and ocean friendly fishing practices
Consumers can choose sustainable seafood, or switch to land sourced/produced sustainable food
Better protection of specific ocean species and organisms
Minimizing atmospheric CO2 from humans sources
Minimising (and managing) mercury release from human sources
Aim for more sustainable agricultural practices
Better management and treatment of sewage and waste water (and less dumping of untreated waste water into the ocean)
Aim for more sustainable mining practices
Aim for more sustainable electricity production practices
Aim for more sustainable transport practices
Minimise air pollution
Minimise soil/land pollution and contamination
Minimise plastic waste, fishing equipment and other waste going into the ocean
Reduce freshwater pollution
Reduce run-off, leaching and direct dumping overall, and better manage, treat and dispose of waste overall (that ends up in the ocean)
Explore the benefits of on-shore fish farming and aqua culture either as an alternative or complement to ocean fishing
Aim for more sustainable offshore drilling and mining practices
Invest in alternate income sources for citizens in countries where they rely on destructive ocean tourism to make a living
Regulate beachfront development to minimize environmental damage
Reduces marine wildlife numbers
Can threaten and endanger certain species (such as bluefin tuna and the orange roughy)
Species removal upsets the ecosystem and food chain because one species or type of animal might depend on another to survive
Certain fishing techniques pull too many fish, even unwanted fish, each catch (bycatching is a separate issue whereby unwanted marine life is pulled in the nets whilst trying to catch other marine life).
They aren’t sustainable.
The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that over 70% of the world’s fish species have been entirely exploited or depleted
2. Destructive Fishing Practices
Destructive fishing practices may damage or degrade the ocean floor, and important parts of the ecosystem like marine life habitats, coral, and so on
It may also have a damaging impact on marine life directly in someway, via injury or death
These practices can relate to how catches are pulled, and sometimes also lost or discarded gear
Bottom trawling destroys the sea floor habitat
Ghost Fishing is another issue where lost or discarded fishing gear continues to catch fish and other marine life
3. Predators Are Being Killed, & Animals Are Being Killed For Specific Body Parts
Firstly, catching predators can upset the food chain in the ocean, as predators can help regulate population numbers of animals and organisms lower on the food chain. There can be a domino effect.
Second, killing certain species for only one body part causes the issue of waste, where only the one body part might be used instead of as much of the catch as possible
Some specific cultures have beliefs around the medicinal, health based, or spiritual based properties of a certain species or body part
Sharks in particular can be killed for their fins (for fin soup) … and the result is two fold [as sharks can be a predator, but there’s also waste]
Certain wildlife are [also] fished for their health benefits of oils
Whaling can be another issue – whales being killed causes issues in the marine ecosystem elsewhere
4. Ocean Acidification
The ocean absorbs CO2 naturally on Earth, but humans have also been responsible for a lot of excess CO2 emissions (mainly from the burning of fossil fuels)
Ocean acidification happens when seawater absorbs this excess carbon dioxide, and it dissolves in the water.
The result is the ocean’s average water pH levels getting lower, and it becomes more acidic.
Marine life are at risk if they can’t adapt to more acidic conditions
Another contributing factor to ocean acidification can be eutrophication, which is explained below in this guide.
In the past 200 years alone, ocean water has become 30 percent more acidic
… extra CO2 is being absorbed by the ocean and shellfish, coral and other species are at risk of being threatened and eliminated if they can’t adapt quickly enough
Apart from mitigation measures of decreasing emissions, another strategy tried to address acidification is geo-engineering:
Geo-engineering has been tried with the ocean – limestone to reverse pH levels, and iron filings to help suck up CO2 (treehugger.com)
5. Coral Dying
Coral helps support small marine life in various ways, such as providing a habitat and a home
This means coral indirectly supports large marine life and humans, as both rely on small marine life.
One of the effects of climate change (due mainly to carbon emissions from fossil fuels) is said to be warming ocean waters.
When waters warm, coral can get stressed or die, and this is known as coral bleaching, as coral can change color.
The nytimes.com indicates that some coral can sometimes recover over the course of a decade or more when the water cools again, but sometimes the effects are irreversible or there is a mass die off
6. Ocean Dead Zones, Eutrophication & Algal Blooms
These issues usually happen in coastal areas.
The relationship between dead zones, eutrophication and algal blooms is as follows:
– Eutrophication occurs when excess nutrients, mainly nitrogen or phosphorus, get into the water (a primary cause of this in developed countries is run off from nitrogen and phosphorus based fertilizers used in agriculture, but it can also happen from waste water and industrial waste)
– Excess nutrients in the water leads to accelerated and abundant growth of algae (hence algal blooms) and other aquatic plants
– Algal blooms can create dead spots and dead zones in the ocean where there a lack of oxygen in those areas. This can happen in several ways, such as algae blocking sunlight, and algae preventing other aquatic life from getting oxygen
– Algal blooms can be followed by hypoxia, which also relates to a lack of oxygen (nationalgeographic.org)
7. Mercury Pollution
Mercury mainly gets into the ocean via the burning of fossil fuels like coal at power plants whereby rain washes it into the ocean, and also from industrial waste/effluent (containing heavy metals like mercury) being discharged into rivers and waterways or directly into the ocean
The smallest marine life absorb [mercury], and it works its way up the food chain to fish like tuna, and into humans
8. Waste, Plastic & Garbage Patches
Solid waste like plastic can work it’s way into the ocean in a number of ways.
It can happen via rivers and waterways, via wind, via directly littering, and even out at sea when fishing gear and materials are dumped into or lost at sea.
The Great Pacific Garbage patch is an example of a large gyre of plastic waste in the ocean
Plastic is a material that doesn’t naturally decompose in the environment – it can get ingested by wildlife and entangle them
Plastic also breaks up into micro plastics which are ingested by wildlife
[Plastic also costs money to remove from the ocean]
9. Irresponsible Fish Farming
There’s a number of ways that fish farming at sea can impact the ocean such as:
– Nutrient, chemical, medical, excrement, and other forms of waste pollution
– Escaped fish getting into wild habitats (disease transmission is one such potential side effect)
What some people also aren’t aware of is that even fish farmed on land might get a certain % of their fish feed and oils from wild caught fish, so, fish farming currently relies on wild populations.
A few stats about farmed fish production around the world:
In China, 90 percent of fish food production comes from aquaculture (2006)
Overall, aquaculture in the marine environment contributes 34 percent of production and 36 percent of total value
– worldoceansday.ca, and greenfacts.org
10. Offshore Drilling & Mining
There are a number of potential ways offshore mining and drilling for oil and other fossil fuels can impact the ocean, such as …
When oil is extracted from the ocean floor, other chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and lead come up with it.
… [the] seismic waves used to find oil [may] harm aquatic mammals and disorient whales.
Furthermore, the infrastructure projects to transport the oil often create worse problems, eroding the coastline.
11. Overall Reduction In Biodiversity
With the above issues, such as threatening of species of marine life, and destruction of habitats, ocean biodiversity is decreasing
The number and variety of living organisms is decreasing
12. Illegal, Unregulated & Unreported Fishing
Pirate fishing is a large component of overfishing, and is considered an unsustainable fishing practice
[pirate fishing] causes estimated losses to coastal states of $10 to $23 billion annually.
Illegal fishing is as much as 40 per cent of the catch in some fisheries.
13. Melting Ice Caps
The shrinking Arctic ice cap is a problem for polar bears, but it is also introducing species new to the region such as mackerel and Arctic cod and could in theory increase the amount of human food available.
There is a need to manage fishing in waters that were formerly under the ice for most of the year.
14. Ocean Shipping
Ocean shipping results in oil spills, ship groundings, anchor damage, and the dumping of rubbish, ballast water, and oily waste are endangering marine habitats around the world.
15. Lack Of Protection
Lack of protection of certain parts of the ocean might be part of an unsustainable way of managing fisheries, but there’s also environmental damage to consider
Only a tiny fraction of the oceans has been protected: just 3.4%
Some areas need more protection than others because of environmental damage and wildlife depletion
16. Coastline Tourism & Development
Housing, hotels, construction and holiday tourism are all threats to coastlines by damaging habitats and contributing pollution
Part of a sustainable tourism strategy might involve figuring out how tourism businesses can thrive, whilst at the same time conserving coastlines and oceans
Potential Solutions To Ocean Problems/Issues
Traditional ocean conservation strategies
Introduce fishing bans on certain types and species of wildlife, and on predators like sharks
Consumers can question restaurant servers, sushi chefs, and seafood purveyors about the sources of their fish, and read labels when we buy from store shelves. Treehugger.com has sustainable seafood slideshows that will show you what you want to look for when you’re choosing your next meal, and what to avoid.
Reduce the amount of carbon emissions via human activity (will reduce acidification and coral bleaching and uptake of carbon by oceans)
Decrease our dependence on fertiliser and pesticides in agriculture
Be more careful about what chemicals and toxic substances, as well as what waste water gets dumped into our oceans (currently, about 80% of waste water globally is dumped untreated)
Introduce and maintain more protected ocean areas