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Marine Pollution and its Laws : Priyansi Patil

“Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.” — Jacques Yves Cousteau, Oceanographer.

Water is said to be the life for us, human beings. Water is the basic need of all humans. We cannot imagine our lives without water. The oceans constitute almost around 71% of the globe. Oceans play a vital role in human survival.

It is estimated that 50% of oxygen produced on Earth comes from the oceans. Oceans help in regulating climate by absorbing huge amounts of heat from the Sun. It’s also an important source of food for billions of people around the globe. The ocean is also home to an abundance of biodiversity which provides opportunity for tourism. Oceans are also a source of income for millions of people. By 2030, ocean-based industries will employ more than 40 million people worldwide, an OECD report estimates. Oceans bestow us with so many things, but we reciprocate it with trash and pollution

According to National Geographic, “Marine pollution is a combination of chemicals and trash, most of which comes from land sources and is washed or blown into the ocean. This pollution results in damage to the environment, to the health of all organisms, and to economic structures worldwide.”

Marine pollution refers to the contamination or presence of pollutants in oceans and seas. The word ‘marine’ comes from the Latin word for ‘sea’ and it is related to similar words, such as ‘mariner’. Ocean pollution is becoming ever more of a problem in the present day.

Marine pollution can be defined as anything that contaminates the sea. Common marine pollutants include chemical waste, agricultural waste, oil spills, plastic and metal waste and also toxic bio-matter (such as sewage). But, noise – due to excessive traffic around the ocean – can also be defined as pollution if it disrupts marine life.

The welfare of humans and oceans are inherently linked with one another. But we humans for our selfish needs are destroying one of the factors of biodiversity which we also are a part of. This behaviour of humans will not only degrade and harm the oceans and biodiversity living beneath it but indirectly ourselves as well.

Causes for Marine pollution:

There are a number of reasons which are contributing to marine pollution.

  1. One of the most important causes of pollution is sewage water flowing through rivers, drainages directly into the ocean.  
  2. Industrial wastes consisting of toxic chemicals are directly discharged into the oceans, harming marine life and also the temperatures of oceans are increased resulting in thermal pollution.
  3. Land runoffs including agricultural runoffs, discharge of nutrients, pesticides and fertilizers and other forms of soil contaminants are a reason for approximately 80% of marine pollution.
  4. Large scale oil spills from ships are also harmful for marine animals causing their deaths.
  5. Ocean mining sites drilling for silver, gold, copper, cobalt, and zinc create sulphide deposits up to three and a half thousand meters down into the ocean leading to marine pollution. 
  6. Plastic pollution is yet another reason for marine pollution. In 2006, the United Nations Environment Programme estimated that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.
Effects of Marine pollution:

Marine pollution has harmful effects on marine life and also on human beings.

  1. Toxic wastes have a harmful effect on marine animals like that of cancer, failure in the reproductive system, behavioural changes, and even death.
  2. The process of photosynthesis is affected by oil spills which float on surface water preventing sunlight from reaching the marine animals.
  3. Most of the debris in the ocean remains for many years because of its inability to decompose. Because of this debris, the chances of survival of marine animals like whales, turtles, sharks, dolphins, penguins for a long time also go down.
  4. Oxygen content in water is depleted because of excessive nutrients from sewage outfalls and agricultural runoffs, contributing to the number of low oxygen (hypoxic) areas known as dead zones, where most marine life cannot survive, resulting in the collapse of some ecosystems. There are now close to 500 dead zones covering more than 245,000 km² globally, equivalent to the surface of the United Kingdom.
  5. When a water body becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients which induce excessive growth of algae or algal bloom. This process also results in oxygen depletion of the water body and is known as Eutrophication.
  6. Marine pollution also has a devastating effect on the animal food chain. Small animals ingest the discharged chemicals and are later eaten by large animals, which then affect the whole food chain.
Global initiatives: Marine Pollution laws
  1. The Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA) was created as a unique intergovernmental mechanism to counter the issue of land-based pollution. The GPA was adopted by 108 Governments, and the European Commission at an intergovernmental conference convened in Washington, D.C., in 1995. The parties set as their common goal sustained and effective action to deal with all land-based impacts upon the marine environment, specifically those resulting from sewage, persistent organic pollutants, radioactive substances, heavy metals, oils (hydrocarbons), nutrients, sediment mobilization, litter, and physical alteration and destruction of habitat. 
  2. The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972, commonly called the “London Convention” or “LC ’72” and also abbreviated as Marine Dumping, is an agreement to control pollution of the sea by dumping and to encourage regional agreements supplementary to the Convention. It covers the deliberate disposal at sea of wastes or other matter from vessels, aircraft, and platforms.
  3. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL Convention) is the main international convention covering prevention of pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes. The MARPOL Convention was adopted on November 2, 1973 at IMO. The Convention includes regulations aimed at preventing and minimizing pollution from ships – both accidental pollution and that from routine operations – and currently includes six technical Annexes.
  4. Greenpeace: It is an environmental NGO that is dedicated to conserving the oceans and marine life across the globe. Its grassroots efforts have resulted in the ban of destructive fishing practices, companies changing their fishing policies, and the creation of whale sanctuaries.
Marine pollution Laws in India:
  1. Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act, 1974: The prime object of this Act is to provide for the prevention of water pollution and cater to the maintenance of the water bodies and carry out activities to promote restoration of water. With the objective of giving practical implementation to this Act, the Central Pollution Control Board and the State Pollution Control Board have been established by the central and state authorities. 
  2. The Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Cess Act, 2003: Industrial waste is one of the causes of water pollution. Often the waste from the industries is being disposed of into the rivers which pollute the river to a significant extent.  Water gets polluted through the toxic or non-biodegradable substances when the processing of these materials is being done in any industry, and such industries are required to pay cess under this law.
  3. M. C. Mehta vs Union of India Air 1988 SCR (2) 538. The writ petition filed by the activist advocate M.C. Mehta in the Supreme Court highlighting the pollution of the Ganga River by the hazardous industries located on its banks. Justice ES Venkataramiah gave a historic judgement ordering the closure of a number of polluting tanneries near Kanpur. In this judgment it was observed that just like an industry which cannot pay minimum wages to its workers cannot be allowed to exist, a tannery which cannot setup a primary treatment plant cannot be permitted to continue to be in existence.
  4. Foreign Ships Entering In Indian Ocean: A bench headed by Justice Raghuvendra S Rathore said all the vessels, Indian and Foreign, entering into Indian Maritime Zone are subject to relevant provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, as well as rules framed there under until comprehensive Indian Merchant Shipping Rules come into force.
Way Forward:

The issue of marine pollution is getting severe day by day. Ocean pollution must be treated as a global issue and all nations should implement sustainable development goals to conserve the oceans and marine life. Nations can also resort to renewable sources of energy. Sewage should be treated properly and research should be made on eco-friendly waste water treatment options. The government is indeed doing a lot of work for saving marine life through implementing marine pollution laws but on an individual level we should also strive to save our oceans. We should try to adopt a green lifestyle by reducing carbon footprints. The world’s oceans and their currents, temperature, life and resources all drive global systems which make Earth habitable for us Humans. Therefore, Save Oceans and Save Mankind…

# Marine pollution laws

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