Polluting Our Seas

18 February 2008

The sea round our island have long been a source of food, jobs and recreation.  Most of us enjoy walking on a sandy beach or along majestic clifftops.  Fish and Chips is one of our national glories.

Polluting our seas

This resource is being eaten away. 52% of global fish stocks are fully exploited, which means that they are being fished at their maximum biological capacity.  24% are over exploited, depleted or recovering from depletion, according to the Marine Stewardship Council. Much of our domestic fishing industry is under threat because “stocks have run out”.  Translated this means there aren’t any fish left, or at least not enough mature ones to breed.  Global warming plays its part – Cod, for example, spawn in very cold seas, but with the temperature of parts of the oceans increasing, they are not breeding properly.  Many fish take quite a long time to reach maturity, such as Plaice and Haddock, which cannot spawn if they are caught before they are adult.

Even worse is the use of the sea as a wet rubbish dump.  Recently an oceanographer discovered a gigantic swirling vortex of floating plastic garbage in the Pacific:  it seems that currents called the North Pacific Gyre sweep enormous amounts of material along and it ends up in the Pacific spread from Hawaii to Japan.  It took solo sailor Charles Moore a week to sail through this continent sized plastic “soup”.  The plastic bag that you throw away here may float into the sea and end up here, if it doesn’t choke a fish or seabird instead.  This giant blot on the planet was invisible to satellites because much of it floats just beneath the surface of the sea.

Polluting our seas

According to the Marine Conservation Society “Toxic chemicals, sewage, crude oil, radioactive waste, agricultural fertilisers, animal waste, storm run-off from our city streets, and millions of tonnes of litter all threaten our seas and shoreline.”

Polluting our seas

In 2002/2003 the Maritime And Coastguard Agency did a sampling survey of items recovered in coastal waters and beaches,  which included 13 packages containing dangerous/harmful substances, used syringes and needles, 678 packages of pharmaceutical products and an astonishing 1,680 munitions or pyrotechnics recovered by Royal Navy Diving Clearance Teams.

photos: Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea

The stewardship of our coastlines is down to us.  Although we are not responsible for oil tanker spills, we are responsible for litter, which includes balloons which are fun on land but at sea can kill animals like marine turtles which mistake them for their jellyfish food and choke on them. 
We can reduce the damage we are doing to marine life by not leaving litter, using ecofriendly paints on our boats, and letting our elected representatives know that we want strong anti-pollution laws.  The sea is an important source of food and with the advent of wave and tidal stream power, part of our response to climate change.  As an island nation we should be more careful with this major resource.


Marine Conservation Society
Advisory Committee on Protection of the Sea

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