Ocean Dumping: Key Issues
Marine debris is the official designation and referents to human created wastes that pollutes and are dumped deliberately or accidentally in lakes, waterways, seas and oceans. While certain debris naturally float on bodies of water (i.e. logs and trees that got cut via natural events), certain communities, peoples and industries the world over deliberately dump debris and garbage in bodies of water without much thought into the effects of such acts in relation to threats to animals (fish, sea mammals, birds, reptiles) their habitats, coastal habitations and to human industries that depend on the bounty of the sea (i.e. fishing). Of late the greatest threat are the toxins released via the practice of ocean dumping which can destroy so easily fragile ocean habitats. Plastic and Styrofoam’s, being non-biodegradable cannot breakdown and affect ocean and water inhabitants in so many ways - accumulated debris prevents photolysis, a component in photosynthesis killing marine life. Ghost nets and accumulated plastic as well as unique debris like six-pack rings can entangle marine life and result to movement restriction which can lead to starvation, laceration, infection and eventually, death. Dugongs, dolphins, sharks, reptiles, sea turtles and all sorts of fish can easily get entangled with ghost nets. Plastic bags and plastic pellets - the broken down versions of plastics via weathering clog the digestive tract of marine animals and where they pool, prevent photolysis as well. It does not help that the smaller pellets, known as nurdles resemble fish eggs. Populations of fish and sea mammals often mistake them for fish eggs and their ingestion result to death.
Ever since man started sailing, the ocean has become a dumping ground for debris and materials. Greenpeace estimates that annually, containers ships lose about 10,000 containers while at sea. Adding to marine debris is the runoff from landfills & storm drains. The danger in the toxic contamination via ocean dumping can be seen in varied incidents in the Arctic Sea. In the 50's Russia dumped highly radioactive materials in their own part of the Arctic - the Barents Karas Sea but the toxicity spread through the rich fishing grounds of the international and open waters of the sea that it affected and threatened fish populations and the industry of Arctic Sea Fishing. Of recent, the experience of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico showed how fragile marine biology is as species of marine life got heavily affected which in turn affected the fishing and tourism industries of the towns and cities around the gulf which destroyed livelihoods and way of life. Aside from the issues listed above, key concerns in relation to how ocean dumping affects human life are identified as follows (Burger, 2009) - 1) Occupational accidents, injuries, and exposures;
2) Exposure of the public to hazardous or toxic materials washed up on beaches; 3) Human consumption of marine organisms that have been contaminated by ocean disposal.
A further complication is the practice of legal dumping where countries (including the US) allow dumping of materials into the sea/ocean following certain situations and measures. Environmental organizations have since been advocating against such measures. To counteract them however, in the case of the US, the following measures have been put in place - • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act,
• Toxic Substances Control Act,
• Water Pollution Prevention and Control Act,
• Air Pollution Prevention and Control Act, Dangerous Cargo Act, • Ports and Waterways Safety Act,
• Deep Water Ports Act,
• Ocean Dumping Act
Of the above, the biggest act with a direct impact on ocean dumping is the last measure, the Ocean Dumping Act. Enacted in 1988, with additional amendments the EPA presents the highlights of the act today as follows (EPA, 2010) -