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Marine Pollution

The United Kingdom is only the 79th largest country in the world, but it has the 12th longest coastline on the planet, extending to 12,429 km. More interestingly though, the seas and oceans under UK’s territorial control covers an incredible 867,400 square kilometres! Owing to this, the country is blessed with a huge variety of marine life and habitats. There are least 330 species of fish which considers UK waters as their home, along with another 28 species of whales and dolphins. There are also 30 species of sharks, two species of seals, and 38 species of birds (numbering over eight million) that calls Britain home.

Alas, as the pace, frequency, and volume of human coastal and open waters activities increase, marine life is facing an ever growing threat to their existence. But the greatest threat to face animal species in UK waters is pollution. The threat goes beyond the economically beneficial activities such as fisheries and tourism – it is about the survival of marine life, which has gone down by half since 1970.

Types of marine pollution

Agricultural Runoff: This is a phenomenon where water from farm fields flows into rivers, lakes and coastal waters. The danger is the runoff of pesticide and fertilisers used in farms. Nitrogen from fertilisers, in particular, is dangerous as it can spawn algae blooms which siphon off all the oxygen from a specific area. This leads to oxygen deserts for fish population. In addition, the runoff water also sometimes picks up pollution and waste along the way which could cause other types of harm.

An example of agricultural runoff. Image courtesy of Lynn Betts.

Habitat Loss: Agricultural runoff, oil spills, waste from factories and leakages from landfills, can damage coastal and deep sea ecosystem which could lead to the destruction of entire habitats. Since only 23% of UK’s waters are protected under conservation laws (Marine Protected Area), they are an attractive ‘loophole’ for many would-be polluters.

Acoustic Pollution: Loud noises from fishing fleets with sonar capability, offshore drilling, and other human-made noises can distort sonar messages sent by dolphins and whales. This could severely impact mating habits and group migration. The impact is not immediate owing to the lengthy lifespan of these animals, but several years’ worth of disruption can create huge long-term reproduction damage.

Oil and chemical spills: Oil and chemical spills occur more often than you think. Many shipping companies do not report minor incidents. However, these minor incidents can kill animals (dolphins and whales have even suffocated from clogged blowholes) and destroy habitats almost overnight. Worse, recovery could take up to decades.

Ocean acidification: One of the most relevant effects of climate change is ocean acidification. The rise of surface water acidity can disrupt the creation of coral reefs and natural habitats. It could also kill planktons and algae, and thereby, disrupt the ecosystem of the area.

Ocean Acidification short

Why should we protect the ocean?

The ocean is the largest ecosystem on the plant. It covers almost three quarters of earth’s surface, and contains 97% of all water on earth.

The ocean is a major reason why we continue to breath – it absorbs most of the carbon (it’s the world biggest carbon sink), and produces over half of the oxygen in the atmosphere. It also provides a cheap and lasting source of protein to most of the people on the planet.

Beyond that, the ocean is also beautiful, and offers unlimited recreational options.

Is that enough reasons why we should protect the ocean?

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