Oceans make up 71% of the earth’s total surface area, and these oceans and their wildlife are important in a number of ways for life on Earth.
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 acidification
- Coral dying
- Ocean dead zones, eutrophication and algal blooms
- Mercury pollution
- Plastic and other waste/garbage patches (as well as discarded fishing gear in the ocean)
- Irresponsible fish farming
- Overall reduction in biodiversity
- Offshore drilling and mining
- Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing
- Melting ice caps
- Ocean shipping
- 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
- 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
- Specifically with how catches are pulled
- 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
- Sharks in particular can be killed for their fins (for fin soup) … and the result is two fold
- First, the waste of killing a shark for only it’s fins
- Second, sharks are a predator in the ocean that help regulate numbers of other animals in the food chain. When you remove a predator, lower animals on the food chain can overpopulate and cause issues
- Whaling can be another issue – whales being killed causes issues in the marine ecosystem elsewhere
4. Ocean Acidification
- Ocean acidification, in an extremely basic explanation, is the ocean’s water pH levels becoming more acidic (the level is lowering as opposed to staying slightly more basic)
- The ocean absorbs a certain amount of naturally emitted C02, but human activity produces C02 at an excessive rate. This extra C02 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
5. Coral Dying
- Coral supports small marine life, which supports bigger marine life, which supports humans
- Coral is dying or at least becoming more stressed, mainly because of coral bleaching, caused by climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. This makes the water warmer and harder for coral to live
6. Ocean Dead Zones, Eutrophication & Algal Blooms
- Dead spots are a lack of oxygen – marine life can’t survive in areas with a lack of oxygen
- Carbon dioxide from greenhouse gas emissions, and things that seep into or we dump into the ocean, are the main causes.
- Fertilisers and pesticides can be a contributor – especially on coastlines where excess nitrogen and phosphorus cause algal blooms (via oceanservice.noaa.gov)
7. Mercury Pollution
- Coal plants contaminate the water with mercury
- The smallest marine life absorb it, and it works its way up the food chain to fish like tuna, and into humans
8. Waste, Plastic & Garbage Patches
- Plastic and other waste pollutes the ocean
- 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 microplastics which are ingested by wildlife
- [Plastic also costs money to remove from the ocean]
9. Irresponsible Fish Farming
- Nutrient and chemical pollution can occur easily in open-ocean fish farming operations when fish feed, excrement, and medication is released into the environment.
- Farmed fish accidentally released into wild populations can also have destructive effects, such as loss of native stocks, disease transmission, and damaging changes in habitat.
- 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
- When oil is extracted from the ocean floor, other chemicals like mercury, arsenic, and lead come up with it.
- Also, the seismic waves used to find oil harm aquatic mammals and disorient whales.
- In 2008, 100 whales had beached themselves as a result of ExxonMobil exploring for oil with these techniques.
- Furthermore, the infrastructure projects to transport the oil often create worse problems, eroding the coastline.
- Lastly, oil is a fossil fuel that when burnt as an end product, contributes to climate change and warming of the ocean
- The International Seabed Authority, based in Kingston, Jamaica, has been handing out permits for exploration beneath the high seas – for example to the Russian Federation – to look for cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts within the Magellan Mountains in the Pacific.
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, causing 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
- 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
- Fishing provides a lot of jobs and money for the economy
- Certain wildlife are fished for their health benefits of oils
- Geo-engineering has been tried with the ocean – limestone to reverse pH levels, and iron filings to help suck up C02
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
- Introduce more sustainable fishing practices
- Introduce more sustainable fishing techniques
- 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 get dumped into our oceans
- Introduce and maintain more protected ocean areas