On May 7, 2019, The Economic Times (India) reported about a UN-backed study compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries. It said that human activities were chiefly responsible for altering “75% of land surface, 40% of marine environment and 50% of inland waterways, causing damage to the natural world through massive urbanisation, deforestation and agricultural intensification.” They also found that “Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history and its impact will see extinction of one million of the eight million estimated number of animal and plant species, many of them within decades, unless their habitats are restored.”
Worldwide, an estimated 12.7 million tons of plastic debris go into the oceans from land sources each year. This is expected to increase. Certain regions serve as nesting colonies for rare or endangered species but people have been shocked to notice huge quantities of nets washed up in the areas. Shores are infested with them. Turtles, birds and other creatures get caught and die. Fishermen are aware that dumping of nets is irresponsible behaviour but do they care?
Islands and coastal areas are often inundated with waste. In Gulf of Carpentaria which hosts some of Australia’s remote coastline, rangers have come across two and a half tons of rubbish (cigarette lighters, plastic bags and bottles, bottle tops, rope and nets etc). Fishes have been mistaking them for food, leading them to premature death.
According to a global study, hundreds of sites in rivers are subject to antibiotic pollution that makes bacteria resistant to medicines. As a result, they’re ineffective on humans. Some Kenyan rivers were found to contain a high level of drugs, causing fishes to die. Environmental scientists are concerned about this phenomenon. The UN says this rise could kill 10 million people by 2050.
Plastic has many practical uses. However, no one could have predicted that it would harm the environment so much. Due to growing demand, they continued producing plentifully without putting into place effective waste management mechanisms. Today plastic is a major marine, freshwater and terrestrial threat. On British beaches, Coca Cola bottles and cans, it was found, constituted 12% of litter.
It was believed that remote regions of the world would never be polluted. They would preserve their pristine beauty. However, mass-produced packaging materials are disposed of in the oceans and rivers after use. These turn up eventually in these faraway places, spoiling their natural attractions. The UN estimates that 100 million tons of plastic waste may have been discarded in the oceans to date. Whales and other creatures live deep in the sea yet they’ve been found with unbelievable amounts of plastic in their guts. The marine ecosystems sustain an economic damage of around $13 billion each year.
We must pursue our conservation efforts and governments must implement existing laws to stop pollution. Recycling is only part of the answer to ending pollution. What is needed if we want to have long-term results is a change of mentality. Many people believe that they have the right to throw their refuse in the ocean. They forget that animals have the right to a clean habitat.
Chemical and biomedical pollution
Already, pesticides are finding their way into rivers and oceans. This has resulted in the production of about 400 dead zones. We also have 300 to 400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge from industries dumped into the waters annually. Cadmium and mercury are killing creatures. We don’t see the tragedy because it’s happening in deep sea. So we downplay the issue. Yet the truth is that every day chemicals are destroying the marine ecosystem. Dioxin has been detected in the Baltic waters. Chemicals may be harming the ocean bacteria that produce 10% of the oxygen we breathe.
We do have strict means of controlling biomedical products. Despite this, needles, glass, razors,, blades, knives, phials, syringes, expired or unused medicines, pressurized containers, disinfectants, gloves and so on manage to end up in rivers and oceans. They’re noxious to both humans and corals.
Oceans contain medicinal and archaeological treasures but oil spills destroy their value. Accidental or operational oil spills provoke ecological disasters. Trapped, sea animals and birds cannot escape from their predators. Many of them naturally survive by scent but oil spills make it impossible for them to look for their species. In addition, they suffer physiological damage. Besides, cleaning up petroleum is costly. Instead of spending millions of dollars in cleaning up oil spills, let’s find new ways in the shipping industry to prevent them.
World Health Organisation notes that across the European continent, tens of millions of people live and work in areas where average air pollution levels are well above the maximum limits. This implies that they are vulnerable to diseases. Scientists wanting to understand mental ailments in cities have discovered that urban teens exposed to excessive air pollution are significantly more likely to have psychotic experiences (hearing voices and paranoia), reduced intelligence and dementia. Air pollution can reach their brain.
World Health Organisation finds that more than 90% of the global population are exposed to toxic air, which makes it a bigger killer than smoking. New studies point out that air pollution damages the lungs and “every organ and virtually every cell in the human body”. One researcher says, “With all the tons of evidence we are collecting now, politicians will not be able to say we didn’t know.” Outdoor air pollution and indoor air pollution (due to cooking) are said to shorten children’s lives by at least 30 months.