The Problem of Ocean Pollution

by Elizabeth Ethier on February 18, 2014

Recently, scientists have found that environmental pollution done by humans now affects nearly every ocean across the globe. Overfishing, greenhouse gas emissions, and global warming all affect oceans. Something that people do not think about is the effect this has on various marine life. Not only are these pollutants killing animals, but they are leaving them with various illnesses and diseases which decreases their qualities of life. Various marine mammals are developing problems with  their nervous and digestive systems, others have growth and development problems. Reproductive problems are yet another issue, this is especially bad because 28 different marine mammals are on the endangered species list. These endangered species could conceivably go extinct when reproductive problems are a factor.

Though toxins affect all marine life, they are especially harmful to mammals because the toxins remain in their fat deposits and breast milk. These toxins are in all levels of the food chain, starting with the plankton. As you move up the food chain, toxins are passed from level to level and eventually reach the marine mammals and humans themselves. Humans are now suffering from their own pollution. Mercury poisoning is a problem for people who eat seafood. However, the accumulation of mercury in fish is caused by mercury pollution from various factories. “Power Plants account for one-third of the nation’s mercury pollution.” according to Physicians for social responsibility. There are other sources of mercury pollution as well: municipal waste combustors, medical waste incinerators, and hazardous waste combustors. Mercury poisoning poses a large threat in places where lots of seafood is consumed. Students in Hong Kong for example consumed enough fish to exceed safe mercury limits. Other places such as China, Japan and Norway issued warnings about consuming the meat of larger marine mammals because they carry such high levels of dangerous toxins now.

Regardless of the toxins present, these larger marine mammals should not be consumed as food, but should rather be protected. Twelve of the 28 different marine mammals on the endangered species list are whales. Furthermore, Beluga Whales are now considered the “most toxic mammal” in the western hemisphere. “Beluga carcasses are so saturated with agricultural runoff-delivered chemicals, such as pesticides, herbicides and phosphorus, that their carcasses must be handled like toxic waste.” (Bohle) Killer whales are in just as much danger. The life expectancy of male orca’s has dropped to half of what it used to be, due to the high toxic levels in their habitats. As for female orca’s, they pass on most of their toxins to their first calf, which usually does not survive.

Another large marine species that should be considered is the Great White Shark. Being at the top of the food chain, the White shark is exposed to all of the various toxins. Interestingly enough, the White Shark has not experienced the same effects from toxins as other marine life. Many whale and dolphin species are  developing cancer and other illnesses. In white sharks, on the other hand, researchers have found no physical impairments. Even more interesting is that the researchers have found high levels of toxins in the sharks. These levels are too high to come just from their food, suggesting that the toxins are passed from mother to pup. It is known that the White Sharks have a unique immune system compared to any other species we know. Because of this, the Great White shark could have answers to many human medical problems such as cancer or HIV.

Ocean pollution is an obvious problem, but when one considers the domino effect it has and all the other issues it causes, the full magnitude of the pollution problem becomes clear and how badly it needs to be stopped. Personally, I believe that more should be done to stop ocean pollution. As a Health Science student I also believe that more research should be done on the great white shark. It is clear they have superior immune systems to humans, and who knows what more research could help uncover.

By Elizabeth Ethier

White Shark, Perhaps holds the answer to disease

White Shark, Perhaps holds the answer to disease

Beluga Whales: The most toxic mammals

Beluga Whales: The most toxic mammals



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