Soon to be an Artificial Ocean? Essay

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Today, society is experiencing, first hand, one of the most unprecedented and ongoing environmental crisis’; ocean pollution. This worldwide catastrophe is caused greatly by the production of plastic products and the need for oil or petroleum. Although these issues affect many variables, oceans are seeing the worst of it. Every year, millions of tons of plastic enter the ocean, enough to circle the Earth roughly four times. To add, in U.S. waters alone, 1.3 million gallons of petroleum are spilled annually. Although many are acknowledging and addressing this issue, these numbers continue to increase each year. In a developing society, oil and plastic corporations are continuously investing in and creating new means of production. However, at the same time, they risk potentially harming the environment. These issues are not only affecting marine life in the world's oceans, but mankind as well.

Every year, around 300 tons of plastic is produced throughout the world and of that 300 tons, only a small fraction of it ends up being recycled properly. Of that which is not, a great majority ends up in the ocean. Generally, when plastic is thrown away, people aren't thinking about where exactly it is going to end up. Many are not realizing how this one small decision is affecting the world on a much larger scale. Catherine Kilduff, an editor for the Center for Biological Diversity discussed the issue of plastic waste, saying, “billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences that make up about 40 percent of the world's ocean surfaces. At current rates plastic is expected to outweigh all the fish in the sea by 2050” (Kilduff). This means that in the years to come, the amount of plastic found in the ocean is expected to outweigh 3.5 trillion fish, an estimation scientists made of the number of fish currently living in the ocean. These convergences, where ocean currents meet, can be found throughout the world, filled with plastic debris. Unfortunately, the amount of plastic that can be found in these convergences end up destroying the homes of many aquatic creatures and in some cases, can take the lives of marine animals. Often, turtles manage to get their heads tangled and stuck in what are called six pack rings, and are unable to free themselves. These six pack rings are made up of a particular type of polymer, which are what plastics are comprised of.

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In these convergences, it can take up to 1,000 years for plastic items to decompose. However, when these plastics break down, they do so into tiny particles called microplastics. Although both plastic, these minute fragments are more likely to damage aquatic creatures than regularly sized plastics, according to Catherine Kilduff. Kilduff, who works in the Center for Biological Diversity’s Oceans Program to protect marine species and ecosystems, said that, due to these plastics which spread throughout the oceans and then degrade into these smaller pieces, “not one square mile of surface ocean anywhere on earth is free of plastic pollution” (Kilduff). This is significant because from the North Pole to the South Pole, it has been proven that plastic in some shape or form, whether large or microscopic, is present on every square mile of the ocean's surface. Sadly, this issue in growing into a crisis of much greater magnitude; so much that humans are beginning to experience these effects.

Upon entering the ocean, marine life is the first to experience microplastics effects. However, as a result, humans are inevitably affected. These tiny plastic fragments, defined as being less than 0.2 inches in diameter, are what is ending up in the human body. Not only do the harsh conditions of ocean waves cause plastic debris to break down into these smaller fragments, but ultraviolet rays from the sun contribute to doing so as well. A study performed in 2015 estimated that the number of particles in the ocean in 2014 ranged from 15 to 51 trillion pieces (Parker). Unfortunately, a great percent of the trillions of pieces of plastic in the ocean end up in the fish and marine animals humans consume. Each year, humans digest about 143.8 million tons of seafood. Because these massive numbers of “fish and wildlife are becoming intoxicated… toxins from the plastics have entered the food chain, threatening human health” (Andrews). Considering that these fragments are miniscule, many humans bypass statements about the harm they can cause and are underestimating their true effects. When broken down, these fragments attract pollutants, and absorb them. Eventually, they make their way into the digestive systems of marine animals where they can be held for a great period of time. As humans, the consumption of fish and marine life of all sorts isn’t irregular. Unfavorably, when these marine animals reach dinner tables, some of these pollutants or toxins still remain. They can enter humans bloodstreams and as a result, altar the functions and health of the human body. Plastic waste isn't the only factor affecting the world’s precious oceans; further studies have shown that oil spills have played a major role in the pollution of the ocean as well.

Oil, otherwise known as petroleum, is a viscous and harmful liquid that can cause serious damage when coming in contact with both living and nonliving organisms. That being the case, when oil enters the world’s oceans, much is at risk of potential harm. Whether oil enters naturally or due to the errors or insufficiencies of oil rigs, marine life is inevitably affected. Around the world, multiple operations have gone wrong when drilling for oil, however, one which occurred in the last decade has stuck out in the history books. “On April 20, 2010, the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, operating in the Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, exploded and sank resulting in… the largest spill of oil in the history of marine oil drilling operations. 4 million barrels of oil flowed from the damaged Macondo well over an 87-day period, before it was finally capped on July 15, 2010” (“Deepwater Horizon”). At the time, this rig was being used to make history and drill the deepest oil well to date. However, no one knew that the Deepwater Horizon would also make history in such a disastrous way. According to a Center for Biological Diversity Report in April of 2011, “the oil spill… likely harmed or killed approximately 82,000 birds… 6,165 sea turtles, and up to 25,900 marine mammals… The spill also harmed an unknown number of fish” (“A DEADLY”). This environmental tragedy was significant given the amount of oil released into the Gulf. Never before had a drilling operation gone so wrong, and affected so much marine life. Given the cause and effect factor, this incident received much media attention. However, oil rig spills are not the only factor causing these massive amounts of petroleum to wind up in oceans worldwide.

While many publicized events, such as Deepwater Horizon, account for the total amount of oil pollution in the oceans, they only constitute a small percent. That which is contributing the most to this large amount is being very much overlooked. A few of these ways in which oil is reaching the marine environment include through natural seeps, gas run vehicles, and recreational boats. Natural seeps occur when oil is released from subterranean reservoirs underneath the ocean floor. According to the National Academy of Sciences, these natural seeps account for 40 percent of the oil entering oceans worldwide (Dell’Amore and Nunez). Even though these seeps don’t have as great of an impact as oil spills have, they still negatively affect the ocean’s creatures. Gas run vehicles further contribute to the amount of oil making its way into the ocean. Because most cars, trucks, motorcycles, and other similar vehicles leak oil onto the ground, especially on paved roadways, it gets flushed into the ocean. To add to the ways oil turns up in the ocean is through recreational boats. According to Aaron Barnett, often times, it is due to “‘operational error, human error or unpreparedness, [or the] lack of education’” of one's recreational vehicle causing oil to sometimes spill into the ocean (Dell’Amore and Nunez). These three almost unnoticed ways oil is finding itself in the world's oceans are affecting those animals living in it and their homes. To add, further studies are now showing that, although not at the same level, mankind is also experiencing these affects.

Everyday, oil of some magnitude is quietly making its way into the world's oceans. This is what is truly affecting humans today; the fact that it may not be visible in the seas or the toxins not visible in the air. The string, however, that links these disparate occurrences is truly remarkable. Because oil enters oceans sometimes in small sums and sometimes in large quantities, there is no exact amount of time that explains how long it can linger in the environment. Consequently, humans are experiencing the effects of oil and its toxins. According to the Environmental Pollution Centers, “the effects of oil [in the world's oceans] on humans may be direct and indirect, depending on the type of contact with the oil…” (“Oil Spills’”). Despite being exposed directly, or indirectly, the effects are severe. Those who live in areas where oil has entered into oceans experience direct exposure, where they come in contact with its components and toxins. Because oil and petroleum emit many volatile products as gases, the air becomes polluted and those in the area are at risk of harming their bodies. Either they breath the contaminated air in or their skin can absorb the contaminants which then enter their body.

On the other hand, many can be affected even if they are not directly exposed. In this case, they experience what is called indirect exposure, which occurs when one bathes in contaminated water or eats contaminated food. As oil enters the ocean, due to its density, it will initially float on the water's surface and stay concentrated. However, eventually it spreads out and is pushed across the water by currents and wind. As a result, its concentration level drops and the oil becomes more diluted. Over time, although it doesn’t fully leave the water, the oil ends up diluting so much to the point where it is not visible to the human eye. Unfortunately, dissolved oil contaminants often still exist in the water, even when an oil sheen is not visible. These leftover contaminants are that which are being absorbed into humans’ skin, and affecting one's ability to function properly. Because they are imperceptible to the human eye, many are experiencing these effects without knowing. In terms of eating contaminated food, “some oil compounds bioaccumulate in living organisms and may become more concentrated along the food chain” (“Oil Spills’”). Humans, in consuming these living organisms, marine animals in this case, become exposed to these contaminants and are affected greatly. The most common and known effects of consuming such contaminated food is food poisoning. In essence, being either directly or indirectly exposed to oil and the volatile gases it gives off and can affect an individual negatively.

For millions of years now, pollution has been a global problem for the world's oceans. However, never before had the world seen such an enormous amount of research and studies on the topic. Oceans today are becoming more polluted than they ever have in the past. Directly relating to this environmental crisis is the use and need for plastic and oil by society. Intrinsically, the world's oceans are the destination point for a tremendous amount of the pollution that humans produce on land and out on the sea. Whether it be plastic products or oil entering the oceans, humans and marine life are being impacted greatly. Although today, many are acknowledging these issues and acting in response to this environmental disaster, not enough people have made a contribution for there to be a drastic change. Out of all the world’s problems, pollution, which is one of the worst and most preventable, has severely affected the Earth’s oceans, and it is nearing a point of no return.

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Soon to be an Artificial Ocean? Essay. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from
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