Ocean Pollution: Types & Impact

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over some of the many different types of ocean pollution. You'll learn what types of ocean pollution there are and what its impact is on animals, ecosystems, and even people.

Ocean Pollution

Pollution, in general, is a very well-known problem on land and in the air. Unfortunately, it's just as big of a problem in our water, including the ocean. While it may seem that the oceans are huge and deep and kind of far away in our thinking, the reality is that there is already a ton of ocean pollution and it's affecting animals, ecosystems, and even us in very negative ways.

In this lesson, you'll see exactly how this is the case as we go over some of the many different forms of ocean pollution.


Sewage, wastewater produced by people, is one of the greatest sources and threats of ocean pollution. Sewage can leak into the oceans as a result of poor infrastructure in developed nations, no infrastructure in developing nations, or as a result of storms.

Regardless of how it leaks into the ocean, or gets purposefully dumped there, it negatively affects the marine ecosystem via numerous mechanisms.

First, sewage contains a lot of excess nutrients that may tip the balance of certain ecosystems in an unfavorable manner. For instance, sewage can allow for seaweed to dominate for space and light at the expense of corals.

Algal blooms as a result of an excess of sewage in the oceans can also lead to the decline of oxygen levels in the water, which can kill off marine animals including whales in some cases.


Trash is another type of ocean pollutant with its own detrimental impacts on the ocean's ecosystems. In fact, you might've even heard of something known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a collection of trash that's twice the size of Texas, floating in the Pacific Ocean.

This collection of garbage is mainly comprised of plastic, very small bits of plastic in fact. One of the biggest problems with this is that it negatively affects filter feeding organisms, like rays and whale sharks. These animals rely on fine filters to, well, filter out small pieces of food from the seawater.

Of course this also means they are filtering out bits of plastic at the same time. As a consequence, toxic levels of chemicals accumulate within their bodies and this can affect how they eat, reproduce, and their overall health as well.


Other forms of ocean pollution include synthetic organic compounds, such as some types of pesticides. One of the major problems with these toxins is that they become biomagnified in the food web.

Biomagnification refers to the process that results in the greater concentration of pollutants in successively higher levels of the food chain.

When synthetic organic compounds enter the ocean as a result of human activity, like agricultural or industrial runoffs, animals lower in the food chain, like plankton, absorb these compounds. However, these animals don't accumulate as much, relatively speaking, toxic material within them.

Small fish that eat the plankton accumulate all of the pollutants in all of the plankton they eat. The bigger fish that eat the smaller fish accumulate all of the pollutants in all of the small fish they eat and thus, by extension, all of the plankton those smaller fish ate. And so on down the line.

In successively higher levels up food chain, animals accumulate very significant amounts of synthetic organic pollutants and this means they have a higher chance of experiencing toxic effects like diseases, issues with reproduction, genetic mutations in their offspring, and so on.

Heavy Metals

This same exact concept of Biomagnification we just went over explains why top predators in the ocean often have the higher amounts of mercury in their tissues!

Mercury and lead are heavy metals that we end up eating as we eat those same top predators. This is a huge problem because we end on the sobering note that ocean pollution has an ultimate impact on us.

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