With an increasing population expected to reach 10 billion by the end of 21st century, efforts to find suitable ways of disposing waste has been increasingly challenging (Huxham and Sumner., 2000). This therefore raises the question to whether we should exploit the oceans further as a means of dumping waste or if we should continue to protect them. Covering 71% of the Earth's surface, containing 1370km3 of water and with an average depth of 3.8km, the ocean seems like a logical solution for disposing waste (Holden, Joseph. 2012). Ocean dumping has been a prominent feature in the UK since the early 19th century when dealing with sewage sludge due to an increase in urbanisation during the industrial revolution, vastly increasing the quantities of sewage and industrial waste. Using vessels to remove the waste it removed sewage out of sight, reducing the smell and also the spread of disease (Huxham et al., 2000). Recently however, concerns have been raised as to whether we should continue to exploit our oceans or if we should set up a system of managing waste to protect its wildlife and finite resources.
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There are various reasons as to why we should think about protecting our oceans from dumping of wastes. 10% of pollutants entering the world's oceans are as a result of collection and dumping of waste into the sea for disposal (Rogers, James A., 1976-1977). The marine environment contains a wide range of species and habitats such as coral reefs, which are very sensitive to changes in the environment due to pollution of wastes. In 1990, 30% of sewage sludge in the UK was dumped at sea. As well as human waste sewage sludge also contains wastes from road run-off including burnt fuels, litter and metals. Faecal bacteria may also be present in sewage sludge, some of which may be pathogenic, such as salmonella (Huxham et al., 2000).
The impacts of ocean dumping highlight the need to increase awareness and action towards reducing its potential damage on the marine environment. Biological impacts include a vast amount of suspended sediment which may affect sedimentary animals such as mussels, as they become stressed due to increasing turbidity of the water (Huxham et al., 2000). This may affect fishing communities in areas where fishing is crucial for the local economy. Wastes may completely smother organisms living on the sea bed, making it difficult for them to move freely and find food. Highly organic wastes may increase food supply for some animals, causing a rise in their population (Huxham et al., 2000). This may reduce biodiversity within the marine environment as other organisms will be out-competed for resources resulting in their inability to survive in their environment. The effect that ocean dumping has on the marine environment clearly demonstrates the need to maintain our oceans by increasing the number of marine protected areas and preventing further contamination of the sea.
There are considered to be some advantages to ocean dumping. By maximising dispersion of wastes, dilution will be high enough to minimise damage. This is known as the 'dilute and disperse' method. However if this is fulfilled, the damage done will be irreversible. The mixing and transport of waste is not predictable resulting in some wastes may become concentrated in unexpected places. However ocean dumping puts geographical distance between people and the waste (Huxham et al., 2000). The land is crowded with people whereas the ocean is relatively empty. Animals likely to be effected the most by ocean dumping are located in the depths of the ocean; therefore people are less likely to be concerned as little is known about the deep sea (Huxham et al., 2000)
Despite a number of government policies on ocean dumping, the state of knowledge around the issue is considered inadequate. Marine protected areas (MPA) play a crucial role in biodiversity conservation and the sustainable utilisation of marine resources. However progress in developing MPAs worldwide has been relatively slow (Qiu, W et al., 2006). Although there are 1300 MPAs worldwide, many are disproportionately located. 267 MPAs are found in Australia, compared to sub-Saharan Africa, where only four countries have been designated MPAs. These areas account for less than 1% of the world's marine area and coverage is not even across biological or political regions (Boersma and Parrish., 1999). The framework for the management of Europe's marine environment can also be seen as inadequate. Conventions include the 1992 OSPAR to regulate and control marine pollution in the North Sea and North Atlantic. Despite making excellent contributions to marine protection, they lacked enforcement powers which compromised the effectiveness of the convention in achieving its goals (Anon., 2006). The Oslo commission established in 1972 was created to prevent pollution as a result of waste dumping at sea. It only covered North East Atlantic and had 13 signatories, which shows the lack of coverage of the commission (Huxham et al., 2000). This demonstrates failure for concern of the world's oceans from a political perspective.
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However some policies have been effective in preventing excess dumping of wastes into the sea to an extent. The London Convention on Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and other Matter was adopted by 25 nations (Huxham et al., 2000) It was created as a global international agreement to prevent excessive ocean dumping. The convention prevents dumping without a permit and wastes are categorised according to their content. Annex I (Black List) contains the most dangerous chemicals, such as mercury and cadmium, and Annex II (Grey List) contains less harmful chemicals, such as elements such as copper, zinc and lead. Black List dumping is forbidden however Grey List is only allowed with a special permit (Huxham et al., 2000). Although this policy does not ban ocean dumping completely, it demonstrates how action is being taken to reduce waste in oceans and evidently shows how there is awareness of the issue.
In conclusion it can be said that the marine environment, particularly when considering ocean dumping is disproportionately protected. Despite laws preventing such activities to an extent, coverage of these laws is not worldwide. A greater understanding of the marine environment is needed to understand the effects of ocean dumping and ways in which we can maintain the marine environment to retain its valuable resources.