Ocean Pollution: Causes & Prevention

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  • 0:04 Ocean Pollution Causes
  • 2:07 Ocean Pollution Prevention
  • 3:42 United Nations Law of the Seas
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

The ocean is immense in size and unfortunately is constantly being polluted. From tankers to agricultural chemicals, the causes are widespread. But there are some prevention methods to help curb ocean pollution.

Ocean Pollution Causes

You might think that in order to pollute the ocean you'd have to dump bad materials directly into it. But in fact, 80% of ocean pollution comes from land. This means that to keep pollution from the ocean we have to be aware of all of our actions.

There are two types of water which can be affected by pollution and then lead to the ocean: The first is surface water, which are bodies of water like oceans, lakes, and rivers. Any water you can see is surface water.

The second type is ground water, which is held underground and accessed by wells, but which still flows into rivers and over surface water. The following is a short list of the main pollutants for both water types.

  • Oil - Oil pollution can come from tankers that have accidents, or from boats that are dry docked and emptied. But surprisingly, over 35% of oil pollution in the ocean comes from oil in the cities and industry runoff, even the sort you see on driveways and roads. This oil is washed away by rain into the sewage system, which lead to rivers and eventually the ocean.

  • Agricultural Chemicals - Pesticides and fertilizer used on crops are another large environmental issue, because again, the rain will wash the chemicals away and push them toward the ocean, which kills marine life, causes eutrophication and algal blooms, or even damages coral reefs.

  • Garbage - Although garbage is not usually dumped into the sea on purpose, boats that are transporting trash will lose trash over the side, or littered trash can often end up in rivers and oceans. Plastic is especially damaging, since it does not degrade quickly and marine animals often mistake it for food. There are now five giant trash patches called gyres in different areas of the ocean.

  • On-shore and off-shore mining - Any mining done near or in the ocean has several different negative effects. Chemicals and oil leak into the water, and mining on the ocean floor causes ground shifts that can open up vents that release additional chemicals.


There are several different preventative measures to help to decrease pollutants. In agriculture, using alternatives to pesticides, such as pheromones or bacteria that detract pests, can reduce chemical runoff that pollutes the ocean. Crop rotation can help reduce the need for fertilizers.

Ensuring that regulations are enforced and tested regularly for tanker soundness and platform safety can help prevent incidents like the Ixtoc I platform spill in 1979 or the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010.

Finding ways to filter the water from sewage before it is released into surface or ground water can reduce ocean pollutants. Unfortunately, the costliness of these processes can deter farmers or industrial corporations from engaging in them.

Measures that can apply individually or on a grand scale include recycling materials so they don't end up in the ocean and avoiding flushing harmful chemicals down sewers or sinks. Things like bath oils, unsafe soaps, shampoos, and conditioners can actually be bad for the ocean.

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