Ocean dumping

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Ocean dumping is the dumping or placing of a wide range of materials, including garbage, construction and demolition debris, sewage sludge, dredge material, and waste chemicals, in the ocean. Ocean dumping may be regulated and controlled in certain cases, while in others ships and tankers dump haphazardly or illegally within coastal waters.

Why should I be aware of this?

Two thirds of the major cities in the world are situated along the coasts, and millions of people take vacation at sea shores. When we dump harmful materials, including oil spills and toxic wastes, in the ocean, its waters get polluted. When toxic waste harms an organism, it can quickly be passed along the food chain and may eventually end up being our seafood. Toxic waste gets into seas and oceans by the leaking of landfills, dumps, mines, and farms. When farm chemicals and heavy metals from factories are dumped in the ocean they too have a very harmful effect on marine life and humans. When marine life gets affected our sea food gets contaminated and this can cause birth defects and damage the nervous systems of humans.

How does this affect me?

When we litter the beaches with balloons, plastic bags, cups, etc., and they reach the waters. Marine animals mistake them for food and, on cosuming these items, are even known to perish due to suffocation or intestinal blockage. It is extremely difficult to control these causes of marine life destruction unless we as individuals accept our responsibilities and take measures to reduce ocean pollution.

Till a few decades ago the ocean was thought to have infinite capacity to absorb waste. But as things stand today, the waste we create, even in small quantities, have a huge impact on the ocean.

Ocean dumping and environment

We need to understand the causes of ocean pollution in order to stop polluting the waters further. Earlier, direct discharges from ships, accidental spills and production activities had been the main causes of ocean pollution. But since the Clean Water Act was passed and reauthorized in the 1970s and 1980s, these activities have been curtailed to a great extent.

Today most of the pollutants in the ocean are caused by day-to-day human activities such as

  • Release of fossil fuel and waste combustion in the atmosphere
  • Pesticides, toxic-waste products, nutrients, and sediments that enter the water as runoff from the land.

Dumping vis-à-vis other sources of pollutants

The relative contribution of dumping to the overall input of potential pollutants in the oceans is estimated at 10%.

The main sources of such inputs are:

  • Run-off and land-based discharges (44%)
  • Land-based discharges through the atmosphere (33%)
  • Maritime transportation (12%)
  • Offshore productions (1%)

Waste from daily activities

The waste that we produce from our daily activities reaches the ocean either from direct dumping or as run-offs through drains and rivers. These are

  • oil
  • fertilizers
  • solid garbage
  • sewage
  • toxic chemicals

Oil

Oil spills cause only 12 percent of ocean pollution. As much as 36% originates from the drains and rivers as runoff from cities and industry.

Fertilizer

In coastal areas fertilizer runoff from farms and lawns are major contributors to ocean pollution

Solid garbage

Solid garbage, if not disposed of properly, ends up in the sea. Major items are household products such as plastic bags, balloons, glass bottles, shoes, and packaging material

Sewage disposal

Untreated or undertreated sewage pollute the seas to a large extent

Toxic chemicals

Pesticides and chemicals used in common household products pollute the ocean and affect all forms of marine life

Other Causes of Ocean Pollution

Car smoke

Smoke emanating from a moving car ends up being in acid rain. Acid rain is pollution mixed with regular rain, and when acid rain gets into the ocean, it pollutes the waters and kills many fish over a period of time.

Boating

Boating pollution is caused by the boat’s engine when it is running. The engine gives off excess gasoline, which pollutes the waters and ends up killing marine life.

Medical waste

Also known as clinical waste, it refers to biological products which are essentially useless. Disposal of this waste in the ocean causes extreme forms of damage to marine life.

All about ocean dumping

International Treaties and Policing

Since the 1970s, international treaties — such as the London Convention — have regulated the dumping of waste in ocean waters. Currently there are 81 Parties to the Convention.

  • Dumping of high-level radioactive wastes has never been allowed under the London Convention. Since 1983 a moratorium on the dumping of low-level radioactive wastes had been in place pending the completion of scientific and technical studies as well as studies on the wider political, legal, economic and social aspects of radioactive waste dumping. Following completion of these studies, the Parties agreed in 1993 to ban dumping of all radioactive wastes in the ocean. This legally-binding prohibition entered into force on 20th February 1994.
  • The 1996 Protocol is a separate agreement that modernized and updated the London Convention, following a detailed review that began in 1993. The 1996 Protocol entered into force on March 24, 2006 with the aim of eventually replacing the London Convention. So far, 30 States have acceded to the 1996 Protocol. States can be a party to either the London Convention 1972, or the 1996 Protocol, or both.
  • But despite the treaties, there are no international policing efforts. The language of the treaties was vague about the enforcement of the treaty. Enforcement is under national, not international control and the vessels are subject to the laws of the country where they are registered.
  • This has resulted in a common practice called ‘flag-of-convenience’ under which shipping companies re-flag their vessels in countries that have lower environmental standards. Many countries where ship companies register their flags aren’t members of these treaties, so the companies don’t have to abide by the standards.

Sewage Generation by Cruise Ships

Modern ships are like huge floating cities, each carrying 5000 or more passengers. If we estimate 10 gallons of sewage generation by each passenger per week, that would mean total generation of 795,000 liters of sewage generated by one cruise ship. The figure becomes unimaginable if we calculate all the cruise ships throughout the world's waters. The sewage dumped is again returned to the shores by the currents.

What can I do about it?

  • Control the amount of pesticide spray that you put on the plants in your garden.
  • Buy organic products, which are grown with only natural pesticides and fertilizers.
  • Improve drainage and decrease run-off, avoid landscaping with hard surfaces and instead select vegetation, gravel or other porous material.
  • Recycle plastic and other waste, properly dispose of batteries and other such toxic waste, use rechargeable batteries, use less water, and carpool.
  • Sweep your driveway and sidewalk to collect any toxic materials that could be washed into waterways and properly dispose of the waste.
  • Scoop pet waste. An estimated 15 tons of pet waste flows into ocean waters every day.
  • Turn a boat engine on all the way only when you need to.

CopperBytes

  • Dumping one quart of motor oil down a storm drain contaminates 250,000 gallons of water
  • Even after ocean water is treated it is not good enough for watering lawns
  • A mouthful of seawater may contain millions of bacterial cells, hundreds of thousands of phytoplankton and tens of thousands of zooplankton.
  • Every year ships at sea discharge somewhere between 5 and 50 million tons of oil. Most of this is the result of the routine discharge of engine wastes and bilge slops, in direct violation of international treaties.
  • Globally, some 450 cubic kilometers of wastewater - from untreated or partially treated sewage, industrial effluents and agricultural runoff - are carried into coastal waters by rivers and streams every year
  • Every year, rivers and streams transport roughly 25 billion tons of eroded sediment into coastal waters, smothering near shore ecosystems and fouling shallow waters habitats.

References

  • Problems: Ocean pollution
  • Ocean Pollution
  • UN Atlas of the OCeans: Ocean Dumping and Ship Wastes
  • Greenpeace's Campaign Against Ocean Dumping Of Radioactive Waste 1978-1998
  • Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972 and the 1996 Protocol Thereto
  • Cruise Ship Pollution

See Also