The ocean constitute almost 70% of the globe. It is estimated that around 50-80% of
Oxygen produced on Earth comes from the oceans.
Marine pollution also known as oceans pollutions comes from Oil spills, plastic,
industrial waste, chemical waste, and agricultural waste from human resources, all
these combined contribute to pollute our oceans and thus comes within the terminology
of marine pollution.
The well being of the oceans and humanity are inextricably linked to one another and
yet here we are destroying our one of the most important factors of the biodiversity that
we all are a part of.
It does not only effect us but also the marine ecosystem,- oceans acidification, climate
change, polluting activities and exploitation of ocean resources have led to some
serious damage over the years to our oceans.
Causes of Marine Pollution
Sewage is defined as wastewater and its component excrements that are transported in
the sewer system. Sewage is mostly comprised of the human waste from toilet flushing,
dirty water from bathing and even animal waste. Most of the wastes find their way into
the ocean waters through the sewer systems.
Industrial Chemicals Another major pollutant is the chemicals from industries and from
the fertilizers and other farm products that are carried by run-off water into the ocean
waters. Many industries dump their waste materials and chemicals into the ocean
Nuclear Waste Another major ocean pollutant is the nuclear waste, which is mostly
produced from industrial, medical, and also scientific procedures that use radioactive
material. The common industries that produce nuclear waste include power stations, the
military, and reprocessing plants.
Plastics Plastic pollution mainly involves the accumulation of plastic in the ocean waters
and thus causing adverse effects on marine organisms. Marine organisms are affected
by the plastics through direct ingestion of the plastic wastes and also through exposure
to chemicals that are within the plastics.
Oil Spills Oil spillage is another primary cause of ocean pollution in that the oil forms a
layer on the water preventing oxygen circulation. Lack of oxygen in the ocean waters
results in the destruction of marine life over a long period.
Ocean mining in the deep sea is yet another source of ocean pollution. Ocean mining
sites drilling for silver, gold, copper, cobalt, and zinc create sulfide deposits up to three
and a half thousand meters down into the ocean.
According to National Geographic:
Many ocean pollutants are released into the environment far upstream from coastlines.
Nitrogen-rich fertilizers applied by farmers inland, for example, end up in local streams,
rivers, and groundwater and are eventually deposited in estuaries, bays, and deltas.
These excess nutrients can spawn massive blooms of algae that rob the water of
oxygen, leaving areas where little or no marine life can exist.
Plastic Pollution: In 2006, the United Nations Environment Programme estimated that
every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.
Once discarded, plastics are weathered and eroded into very small fragments known as
micro-plastics. These together with plastic pellets are already found in most beaches
around the world. Plastic materials and other litter can become concentrated in certain
areas called gyres as a result of marine pollution gathered by oceanic currents.
For example, the North Pacific Gyre is now referred to as the Great Pacific Garbage
Patch, where waste material from across the North Pacific Ocean, including coastal
waters off North America and Japan, are drawn together.
In addition to all these factors, the oceans are highly affected by carbon dioxide and
climate changes, which impacts primarily the ecosystems and fish communities that live
in the ocean.
In particular, the rising levels of CO2 leads to ocean acidification.
Other factors like coastal tourism, port and harbour developments, damming of rivers,
urban development and construction, mining, fisheries, aquaculture etc., are all sources
of marine pollution threatening coastal and marine habitats, effects of Ocean Pollution.
Effect of Toxic Wastes on Marine Animals:
The long term effect on marine life can include cancer, failure in the reproductive
system, behavioural changes, and even death.
Disruption to the Cycle of Coral Reefs: Oil spill floats on the surface of the water and
prevents sunlight from reaching marine plants and affects the process of
photosynthesis.Depletes Oxygen Content in Water: Most of the debris in the ocean
does not decompose and remain in the ocean for years.
Due to this, oxygen levels go down, as a result, the chances of survival of marine
animals like whales, turtles, sharks, dolphins, penguins for a long time also goes
down.Excessive nutrients from sewage outfalls and agricultural runoff have contributed
to the number of low oxygen (hypoxic) areas known as dead zones, where most marine
life cannot survive, resulting in the collapse of some ecosystems.
There are now close to 500 dead zones covering more than 245,000 km2 globally,
equivalent to the surface of the United Kingdom.
When a water body becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients which induce
excessive growth of algae or algal bloom.
This process also results in oxygen depletion of the water body.
Failure in the Reproductive System of Sea Animals:
Chemicals from pesticides can accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals, leading to
failure in their reproductive system.
Effect on Food Chain:
Small animals ingest the discharged chemicals and are later eaten by large animals,
which then affects the whole food chain, Global Initiatives
The Global Programme of Action (GPA) for the Protection of the Marine
Environment from Land-based Activities:
The GPA is the only global intergovernmental mechanism directly addressing the
connectivity between terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine ecosystems.
MARPOL convention (1973)
It covers pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental
It lists various forms of marine pollution caused by oil, noxious liquid substances,
harmful substances in packaged form, sewage and garbage from ships, etc.
The London Convention (1972)
Its objective is to promote the effective control of all sources of marine pollution and to
take all practicable steps to prevent pollution of the sea by dumping of wastes and other
It is an environmental NGO that is dedicated to conserving the oceans and marine life
across the globe. Its grassroots efforts have resulted in the ban of destructive fishing
practices, companies changing their fishing policies, and the creation of whale
How to prevent Ocean pollution?
Implement renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar power, to limit off-shore
drilling Limit agricultural pesticides and encourage organic farming & eco-friendly
Proper sewage treatment and exploration of eco-friendly wastewater treatment options.
Cut down on the industry and manufacturing waste and contain it into landfills to avoid
Use of Biotechnology: Bioremediation (use of specific microorganisms to metabolize
and remove harmful substances) to treat oil spills.
At individual level reduce carbon footprint by adopting a "green" lifestyle.
Have a global treaty on banning single-use plastics and collaborated effort to clean up
The world's oceans – their temperature, chemistry, currents and life - drive global
systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Over three billion people depend
on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods.
In this context, ocean health must be treated as a global issue and all nations should act
in concert to implement Sustainable Development Goal: 14 i.e. To conserve and
sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.
S. Jagannath vs Union Of India & Ors on 11 December, 1996
With noticeable increase in marine pollution and the consequential decline in marine
resources, serious concern was expressed in the United Nations' Conference on
Human Environments in Stockholm (1972) attracting global attention towards the urgent
need of identifying the critically polluted areas of the marine environments, specially in
coastal waters, for urgent remedial actions.
The Conference unanimously resolved that the littoral States should take early action at
their National level for assessment and control of marine pollution from all sources and
carry out systematic monitoring to ascertain the efficacy of the pollution regulatory
actions taken by them.
In the background of the Stockholm Conference and in view of 1982 Convention on the
"Law of the Sea" defining jurisdiction of territorial waters, a model comprehensive Action
Plan has been evolved under the United Nations' Environment Programme (UNEP).
Keeping with the international commitments and in greater National interest, the
Government of India and the Governments of the coastal States are under a legal
obligation to control marine pollution and protect the coastal-environments.
M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India AIR 1988 SCR (2) 538
The writ petition filed by the activist advocate M.C. Mehta in the Supreme Court
highlighted the pollution of the Ganga river by the hazardous industries located on its
banks. Justice ES Venkataramiah gave a historic judgement ordering the closure of a
number of polluting tanneries near Kanpur.
In this judgment it was observed that just like an industry which cannot pay minimum
wages to its workers cannot be allowed to exist, a tannery which cannot setup a primary
treatment plant cannot be permitted to continue to be in existence.
Foreign Ships Entering In Indian Ocean
A bench headed by Justice Raghuvendra S Rathore said all the vessels, Indian and
Foreign, entering into Indian Maritime Zone are subject to relevant provisions of the
Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981,
as well as rules framed there under until comprehensive Indian Merchant Shipping
Rules come into force.
"The various regulatory authorities charged with the responsibilities under the
Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981,
and rules made thereunder, the Central Pollution Control Board and the State Pollution
Control Boards will regulate the air as well as various other pollution caused by the
Indian vessels as well as the Foreign vessels entering into Indian Maritime Zone," the
Marine Debris Law And Policy In India
Marine pollution, as a distinct subject, has neither been dealt with in policy nor
economics in India. In tackling marine litter, Indian policy has been restricted to the
banning of single-use plastic — a fact evidenced by an international report of the Marine
Litter Legislation by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2016. The report
mentions Indian efforts only in the case of a ban on plastic-bags. India's ban applies
only to certain types of plastic- notably plastic bags of a certain thickness.
While this move has been welcome, it is certainly not even close to the solution if
segregation, and eventual incineration of polypropylene (coming from all sources of
plastic), does not happen.
the UN report has several sections on developing policy to tackle marine litter. Banning
any single-use plastic is under the sub-heading Prohibiting and Disincentivizing use of
Land-based Material Causing Marine Litter at the Retail Level.
There are other sections on managing and restricting waste disposal into the marine
environment (from landfills) — and in all these sections, Indian policy is undeveloped.
This extends to policy on public and private sector engagement on tackling marine
pollution, research programmes, and engagement of universities. Unless all processes
— at the central, state, and regional levels — work in tandem with one another, our
oceans will face continued threats in the form of plastic.
To add to this, unpacking oceans governance in India as a topic, is daunting in and of
itself. One of the reasons is that there is no consolidated national institutional framework
dealing with oceans in a holistic manner. The Ministry of Earth Sciences, the Ministry of
Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the Ministry of External Affairs, the Ministry
of New and Renewable Energy, the Ministry of Agriculture (Department of Fisheries),
and the Ministry of Defence (the Indian Coast Guard and the Indian Navy) are all
stakeholders in ocean governance.
These ministries and departments do not necessarily mesh with one another, resulting
in a significant amount of dissonance. In an attempt to resolve some of this, there has
been a slew of 'Blue Economy' programmes in India over the past few years.
However, the 'Blue Economy' is a large concept, within which marine debris is but a
part, and not one heralding the most attention either. Given the need to bolster
economic activity in the maritime sectors of fisheries, offshore oil, gas and wind, and
even deep-sea mining, specific issues that are required to address marine debris in a
pointed manner remain largely ignored or are paid little more than lip service.
There was some talk last year of building a National Marine Litter Policy for India, which
was to be funded by Norway as part of another Blue Economy programme. Information
of whether and how that policy developed is currently not in the public domain.
There is another unique angle to how Indian environmental policy works, or rather,
doesn't work. Often, many different stakeholders end-up carving the skeletal policy for a
topic — such as the Blue Economy and, by extension, marine pollution. To have a
meaningful impact, a programme must have four elements — identifying the problem,
offering pointed solutions, implementing the ideas through a pilot project, and, reviewing
the implementation so that successful pilot-projects can be upscaled, and plans that do
not work can be altered.
However, insofar as developing a well-sounded plan to address marine litter/pollution in
India is concerned, we remain stuck at the Problem Identification stage. Several 'Blue
Economy' reports highlight the need to fix the problem but none go beyond that. The
importance of safeguarding our oceans and oceanic resources needs no further
emphasis and no additional 'statements of noble intent'.
What is needed, instead, is an end-to-end plan in which the important facets of
technology, tech-finance, policy and regulation, tax, as well as revenue-positive
economic models, and so forth are made to work together to find a sustainable,
long-term solution that will keep our oceans healthy. At the very least, addressing
marine pollution and stopping practices that add to it should be high on India's political
and social agendas
credit: Vedika bhise