Ocean Pollution Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Lauren Scott

Lauren has a Master's degree in special education and has taught for more than 10 years.

In this lesson, you will learn the basics about ocean pollution. You will learn about different pollutants and why they are harmful. You will also learn how people can work together to keep the oceans clean.

A Big Difference

The ocean is an enormous and powerful body of water. It's hard to imagine that putting something small in it, like a plastic bottle or a drop of oil, could make any difference in its well being or hurt the plants and animals that call it home.

Not so long ago, scientists and lawmakers thought the same way. They believed that anything dumped into the ocean would just disappear, without causing any harm. Unfortunately, this is not true. Our oceans are being dirtied, or polluted, by numerous materials, most of them human-made.

The Biggest Polluter

Believe it or not, most ocean pollution comes from land. Fertilizer from lawns and farms, motor oil, and sewage are washed into local streams and rivers, where they may eventually flow into the ocean.

Heavy rain washes fertilizer and other pollutants into local waterways, where they may be carried out to sea.

Fertilizer pollution has gotten so bad in some areas that the coastal waters have developed dead zones, areas that support little or no life. The fertilizer causes large algae (a simple plant) blooms that use up a lot of oxygen. Without enough oxygen, aquatic plants and animals are unable to survive.

Scientists even have a term for when pollution causes massive numbers of fish to die at once - a fish kill.

Oil Spills

Imagine how gross and sticky you would feel if you poured an entire bottle of cooking oil over your head. That's probably what it's like to be a sea bird caught in an oil spill.

Leaks or accidents involving oil tankers, offshore oil wells, or pipelines can cause oil spills that are difficult to clean up. Oil is dangerous to wildlife because it coats their skin, feathers, or fur. Sea birds and otters are especially at risk because the oil keeps their fur or feathers from protecting their skin and keeping them warm.

Animals can also get very sick if they swallow or breathe in the oil.

A specially outfitted boat skims oil from the surface of the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
oil spill cleanup

Ocean Trash

Plastic bottles, lost fishing gear, and foam packing containers - these are just some of types of trash that wash into our waterways, or are dumped from ships. This trash is called marine debris, and it can injure or kill wildlife.

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