12 interesting coral reef facts

Bright yellow fish next o a coral reef. Shared by Ocean Generation in an article about interesting coral reef facts.

Coral reefs are one of the most indispensable ecosystems on Earth.

What makes corals are so brightly coloured? Why do they turn white when they’re unhealthy? We’ve got you covered. Below, we’re sharing 12+ fascinating facts about coral reefs: The most biologically diverse ecosystem on Earth.

Corals reefs are large skeletons (because they’re made up of tiny animals a.k.a. ‘coral polyps’). They’re home to hundreds of plants and organisms, support fisheries and may host the answers needed to develop new cancer medication. 

How many of these coral reef facts do you know?

Close up of dark blue coral reef in the Ocean. Shared by Ocean Generation: Experts in Ocean health since 2009.

1. Coral reefs occur in more than 100 countries and territories whilst covering only 0.2% of the seafloor. They reside in tropical and semi-tropical waters.  

2. The single-celled algae, zooxanthellae, that live in the tissues of the coral polyps can fuel up to 90% of the reef-building coral’s energy requirements for growth and reproduction. Additionally, zooxanthellae are responsible for the vibrant colours of the corals!  

3. In return, the corals provide them with a home to reside in and nutrients to aid photosynthesis. Thus, fulfilling a mutually beneficial (‘symbiotic’) relationship! 

Colourful coral reef, bursting with life. There's a sea turtle and some orange fish swimming in the Ocean around the reef.

4. A healthy coral reef can limit coastal wave energy by up to 97%. That alone makes corals a crucial shoreline protector, like some other coastal ecosystems.

Coral reefs protect around $6 billion worth of built infrastructure from flooding around the world, from an economic perspective.

5. Large scale losses of coral reefs are due to a warming Ocean and climate change.

Land-based pollution of nutrients and sediments from agriculture, marine pollution, overfishing and destructive fishing practices, and outbreaks of coral diseases and crown-of-thorn starfish (see below image) are all causes of local coral losses. 

Large, purple crown of thorn starfish on the seafloor in the Ocean. These starfish threaten the livelihoods of coral reefs. Facts about corals shared by Ocean Generation.

6. Coral reefs support at least a quarter of all marine species. What’s more: Coral reefs are a home to an average of 830,000 species (550,000 – 1,330,000). The range varies widely due to large populations of small cryptic species being difficult to sample.  

7. Astonishingly, scientists estimate that roughly 74% of coral reef species remain undiscovered! 

8. Ocean acidification is a major threat to coral reefs.

The decrease in pH (making water acidic) hinders corals and other organisms from forming their skeletons. This makes them especially vulnerable in juvenile stages.

The weakening of these skeletons also results in habitat loss, low reef biodiversity, coastline erosion etc. 

9. Coral reefs subjected to higher temperature levels increase the likelihood of abrupt and irreversible changes. According to the IPCC, a record-shattering warming world of 1.5°C would mean a 70-90% decline in coral reefs.  

10. Coral reef associated fisheries provide 70% of protein in the diets of Pacific Islanders. These fisheries support around 6 million people and are worth $6.8 billion annually.  

Coral in the Ocean experiencing coral bleaching. Corals turn white when they're bleached.

11. Corals can turn white due to coral bleaching. Climate change is a major driver of coral bleaching, and this process disrupts the symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae.  

As the algae is dispelled by the corals in an attempt to protect themselves, the corals vulnerability increases and they lose a major energy source. If the heat stress persists, corals are likely to die.  

Hands near the shoreline of the Ocean holding an unhealthy piece of coral. The coral is bleached white because of climate change. Image shared by Ocean Generation, experts in Ocean health and understandable environmental science.

Over half of the our coral reefs are already lost.

12. Coral restoration is a relatively new nature-based solution. Nature-based solutions refers to an umbrella of methods for reviving ecosystems in the face of adversity. 

A 2020 review stated that coral restoration projects report a survival rate between 60-70% with a report stating that 1.5C warming would render this solution to be ineffective.

The authors of the review noted that most projects are small-scale and that we’ll still require large-scale climate action to tackle the root of this issue. 

With over half of the world’s coral reefs already lost, it is evident that coral reefs are declining due to a multitude of human pressures.  

Some warm water corals have reached adaptation limits. Nevertheless, scientists and local communities are working extremely hard to continuously build on existing solutions and quickly adopt innovative approaches. 

The existential threat of the rise in global temperatures means that climate change action is urgently needed to establish coral reef resilience.  

Act now.

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How can I tackle a problem as complex as climate change?

A ripple of water. Ocean Generation makes environmental science easy to understand and shares how each individual has a ripple effect on the environment and health of the Ocean.

The Ocean has never been this subjected to the level of intensity of climate change impacts caused by human activities. With every 0.1 degree C of warming, we make it more and more difficult for humans, flora, and fauna to adapt. 

A warming Ocean means that marine ecosystems like coral reefs and salt marshes are less able to host marine biodiversity and sustain many benefits for humans.

This also disrupts the Ocean’s ability to regulate the global climate system, water, and carbon cycle. 

It goes without saying that the climate crisis is now a defining issue of our lifetimes, and we have a slim window of opportunity to reduce our collective impact. 

Four images side by side: Rough blue Ocean waves and foam, a factory releasing carbon emissions behind a field of yellow floowers, a single green lead on a crusty dry piece of Earth, a bright pink and healthy coral in the Ocean. Ocean Generation makes climate science simple to understand.

Is there a way out of the climate crisis? 

The Ocean stores 20-30% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from human activities but this is unsustainable, resulting in an acidic, slow circulating, less oxygenated Ocean.

To put it simply, we need to rapidly reduce our emissions to give young people and future generations a chance to secure a sustainable future.  

According to the latest IPCC report, we need to cut global GHG emissions by nearly half by 2030. These emissions come from electricity production, food, agriculture, land use, industry, transportation etc. Cutting emissions requires global collaboration and cooperation – from governments to individuals.  

The challenge is immense, but the solutions could not be clearer.

A ripple of water. Ocean Generation makes environmental science easy to understand and shares how each individual has a ripple effect on the environment and health of the Ocean.

What do we need to do to limit global warming?  

Some of these solutions have already been set in motion: Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, increasing uptake of clean energies, restoring carbon sinks, and much more. The slow pace of adoption and funding associated with these solutions have been repeatedly questioned, given the world is currently at 1.1C.  

The effects of climate change are already being felt in different corners of the world, albeit disproportionately.  

In order for us to stay within any warming limit, we need to make the necessary changes needed to sustain humanity as a whole. And as individuals, each and every one of us have carbon footprints attached to our households and lifestyles.  

We must address the fact that
we do not emit emissions equally 

Globally, there are huge disparities between those who over-consume and those who consume less due to socioeconomic and geographic factors.  

In fact, the top 10% of high-income households contribute 34–45% of consumption-based household GHG emissions and the bottom 50% contribute 13–15%.  

These stark differences mean that individuals in the top 50% are the in the best position to reduce their emissions, giving the opportunity to raise living standards for those in the bottom 50%.  

When considering our lifestyles, the conclusions are quite similar. 

What impact do our lifestyle choices have on carbon emissions?  

According to 2022 UNEP report, “the lifestyles of the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population (broadly speaking, most middleclass persons living in industrialised countries), are responsible for almost half of the global emissions, while the lifestyles of the wealthiest 1% are responsible for about twice as many GHG emissions as the poorest 50%”.  

Lifestyles are not just about the things we consume, but also addresses the communities we live in, the values we foster and the choices we make.

Individuals that are socio-economically well-off are in an instrumental position for enabling change. One paper suggests that individuals in this category could reduce emissions as role models, citizens, organisational participants, investors, and consumers.  

Ultimately, environmental, and societal well-being go hand-in-hand; it is in humanity’s best interests to fairly consume within our means.  

Footprint made of sea shells on the sand at a beach. Each of us has carbon footprints attached to our households and lifestyles. We can minimise our impact with every decision we make.

What can people to do to lower their carbon emissions 

There are four key areas where individuals can have the most impact: Food, transport, housing, and the things we buy (like appliances, clothes etc).  

There is no denying that industry supply chains have a responsibility to reduce environmental impacts and provide sustainable choices. Small, and local businesses also tend to be more transparent, gaining consumer trust. Low-carbon alternatives exist in each of the aforementioned areas, and we can collectively vouch for further changes, whether that’s accessibility or affordability.  

At Ocean Generation, we will be covering climate change solutions under each of the above areas through 2023. Namely:

What we Eat food sources, diets, and food waste 
How we Move modes of mobility 
What we Purchase appliances, fashion 
How we Live energy sources and energy-saving behaviours 

Four areas where individuals have agency over their emissions: how we move, how we live, what we purchase and what we eat. Ocean Generation will be covering solutions related to climate change because climate solutions are Ocean solutions. We cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy Ocean.

Climate change solutions are Ocean solutions, and vice versa.

The finite resources on this planet need to be utilised efficiently and distributed equally while minimising our impact with each and every decision we make.  

The future of the Ocean is very much in our own hands.  

With every 0.1C degree warming avoided, biodiversity and humans are given another chance. Let’s make every choice count!  

The future of the Ocean is in our hands. To have a healthy planet, we need a healthy Ocean. Ocean Generation shares climate change solutions and Ocean solutions to safeguard our planet.

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Our Impact: Understanding the 5 Ocean Threats

The Ocean is a flourishing ecosystem that can maintain itself.

But our actions have been negatively impacting the Ocean for decades, at a rate our Ocean cannot keep up with. 

There was a time when we thought the Ocean was endless. So, we treated it that way: Taking what we wanted, when we wanted, in whatever quantity we liked.  

It took us far too long to realise the many ways we threaten our Ocean. But now we know better.

Our Ocean is one of our planet’s most valuable ecosystems.

The Ocean provides over 50% of the world’s oxygen, captures 30% of human-made carbon emissions, and mitigates the climate crisis. The bottom line: We need a healthy Ocean for a healthy planet. 

What are the 5 key ways human activity impacts the Ocean? Ocean Generation is sharing the human threats our Ocean faces. 5 images side by side represent the threats: a dry landscape for climate change; a plastic bottle in the Ocean for pollution; a dam wall for costal infrastructure; a caught fish for resource extraction; and a cruise ship for daily Ocean use.

How does human activity threaten the Ocean?

Our Impact work explores the 5 key ways human actions negatively impact the Ocean.

Many of the underlying actions causing these Ocean Threats have existed throughout the course of human history – but have become unsustainable more recently because of rapid population growth and the consequent scale of our impact on the marine environment.  

What human activity impacts the Ocean the worst?

There are no known, credible, scientific classification of the severity of these Ocean threats. What does that mean – simply? We can’t tell you which of the five threaten the Ocean the worst.

But there’s no doubt that all of these Ocean threats are inter-related and can combine to have vast negative impacts on Ocean health, marine habitats and marine life which, in turn, pose serious threats to human health.

What are the 5 human-made Ocean threats?

1. Climate change: We can’t talk about climate change without the Ocean

It’s widely accepted that human actions are the primary drivers of climate change. The biggest culprit? Burning fossil fuels (for example, coal, oil and gas) to produce energy is the main cause of climate change.

Signs of climate change are all around us – and impossible to ignore. But too few of us understand the important role our Ocean plays in mitigating the climate crisis.

How does the Ocean mitigate climate change?

Our Ocean plays a fundamental role in regulating global temperatures, storing massive amounts of carbon, and capturing heat from the atmosphere.

Although the Ocean drastically mitigates climate change, it’s also impacted by climate change. These changes (like increased Ocean heat), have negative consequences on Ocean health and thus, all of us.

2. Pollution: It’s not just plastic polluting our Ocean. 

Plastic is, by far, the most common and impacting pollutant in the Ocean.

80% of plastic in our Ocean comes from the land and most of that is made up of single-use plastic items; products we use once, then throw away. And that’s the biggest problem with plastic: there is no “away.”

This Ocean Generation above and below image shows human impact on the Ocean in the top half of the image with an oil spill in the Ocean and in the bottom half, the flourishing Ocean. An array of fish are swimming among bright blue corals.

3. Coastal Infrastructure Development: Why do we need to protect our coastlines?


2.5 billion people live within 100km from our Ocean.

Coastal regions are densely populated areas with increasing rates of population growth (and who can blame them? Living near the Ocean has numerous benefits.)

But rapid urbanisation of our coastlines has negative impacts on the environment – many of which are linked to climate change.

With higher frequencies of natural weather events (like cyclones and hurricanes), erosion and land loss, and flooding, coastal regions have never been this vulnerable.

4. Resource Extraction: What resources do we extract from the Ocean? 

Around 3 billion people rely on the Ocean for their primary source of protein: Seafood.

Seafood is the most notable thing we extract from the Ocean but it’s not the only thing. We also extract minerals, fossil fuels, and plants from the Ocean.

Our Ocean – as incredible as it is – is not limitless.

We must recognise the limits of Ocean resources and control the quantity and frequency at which we extract resources from the Ocean; allowing it time to replenish and regenerate. Otherwise, we will reach a point of no return.

A fisherman, standing knee deep in the Ocean, is holding up a fishing net. It is sunset and only the outline of the fisherman and his hat can be seen against the yellow sky. In this blog, Ocean Generation is sharing the negative impact of resource extraction on the Ocean.

5. Daily Ocean Use: What’s the impact of daily human actions on the Ocean?

Humans work hard and always have something on the go. The Ocean is no different.

All around the world, our Ocean is in use every day. From cargo shipping for trade, passenger traffic for travel to commercial fishing and research – the Ocean is used widely. How we make use of the Ocean is what’s important.

We need to turn to using the Ocean sustainably to protect the awe-inspiring ecosystem that supports all life on Earth. 

What can I do to protect our blue planet?

Understanding the 5 main threats our Ocean faces is step one. Step two is doing something about them. Some of these Ocean Threats can feel overwhelming – but they don’t have to be.

Working together is humanity’s superpower. And it remains our best tool for solving the world’s biggest problems, and simultaneously, restoring our Ocean.

Three ways you can take environmental action – with a focus on the Ocean – right now:

  1. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive monthly impact in your inbox; explore our Science Hub; or visit our Instagram page for bite-size environmental education.

  2. Recognise that you don’t have to be perfect.

    Ask yourself: What can I do right now to decrease my carbon footprint? What can I do to be a voice for our Ocean and empower others to do the same?

  3. 20 actions to reduce and reuse plastic.

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Our Impact: The cost of daily Ocean use

This is part of our Four Pillars work that highlights the importance of the Ocean, the human-made threats it faces, and the solutions our Ocean provides.

What is the cost of our daily Ocean activities

What’s there to love about the Ocean 

Many things come to mind: How vast it is, Ocean biodiversity, being able to swim, dive, snorkel, travel and so much more.  

This large body of water helps us stay connected with each other through global trade and passenger routes.

The Ocean also helps us learn about, explore, and enjoy its many offerings through touristic and recreational activities. But this daily Ocean use can also be harmful to the marine environment if we are not careful. 

Recreational boating in the Ocean. In the image, a speedboat cuts across Ocean waves leaving a trail in its wake.

The impacts of tourism on our Ocean  

The issue with “sun, sea, sand” tourism on Ocean biodiversity 

Touristic Ocean activities are mainly experienced through cruising or coastal tourism.

One of the major impacts on the Ocean comes from coastal infrastructure development dedicated to cultivating tourism hotspots: think airports, hotels, or retail shops.  

Effective planning and management are crucial in minimising the impacts on biodiversity. If foregone, the effects are dire: a 15-year unplanned development period at Vlora Bay, Albania resulted in the disappearance of over 50% of seagrass meadows and a huge reduction in macroalgae.  

People enjoying a beach and the blue Ocean waves.

Furthermore, studies continue to show that beaches with extensive tourism are less rich in nutrients and biodiversity, when compared to natural shorelines. This is often the case to appease tourists with what an “ideal” beach might look like.  

Our love for water-based recreational activities impacts marine life 

There is nothing quite like spending some time in the water, whether that may be a pool, a lagoon, a lake, or the mighty Ocean.  

Scuba diving and snorkeling are highly popular activities, and the prime locations are areas with coral reefs.  

Coral reefs  attract large numbers of tourists each year.

Around the world, coral reef tourism is valued at an estimated $36 billion annually.

In terms of visitor numbers, this equates to 70 million tourist trips that would not have happened without the presence of these magnificent reefs.  

Coral reef tourism is valued at $36 billion every year. A scuba diver is reaching out to touch a fish in a coral reef.

Studies have shown that diver interactions can be damaging to the reefs.

This mostly comes down to the risk of breaking or touching the fragile reefs. Better training for the divers and overall management techniques are needed to ensure coral reef tourism is sustainable.  

Other activities that attract visitors include birdwatching, whale watching and recreational boating.

Whale watching is a significant tourist activity, generating about $2.1billion per annum, globally. Millions of people engage in this activity which may benefit conservation efforts through change in attitudes towards marine life and natural environments. Yet, uncontrolled whale watching efforts can disrupt their natural behaviours.  

A whale tail image. The whale's tail is dipping into the Ocean waves.

What are the effects of marine traffic on the Ocean? 

Marine traffic mainly comprises of shipping cargoes and passenger movements. This traffic can impact the Ocean through various forms of pollution (air, water, noise, oil spills) as well as biodiversity losses.  

Passenger traffic has seen an increased interest in cruises – the number of passengers has increased by about 5% per year, with major hotspots being the Caribbean and Mediterranean.  

There is also an increased interest in Antarctic and Arctic tourism. With melting sea ice in the Arctic, new parts of the area open, which is likely to be subjected to more impacts.  

Cruise boat in the Ocean.

New innovations in marine fuels and strict adherence to the codes provided by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) are necessary to limit the environmental impacts caused by marine traffic.  

But what if we just limited the traffic? 

Here is an insightful case study…  

Research Spotlight: What happens when we curb marine traffic? 

Chinese white dolphins are not limited to but can be found in the waters near Hong Kong.

Over the last 17 years, their population has decreased by 80% and one of the main culprits is marine traffic. A recent multi-year study found fascinating changes in behaviour of these mammals when left undisturbed.*

Due to COVID-19, cross border passenger ferries between Hong Kong, Macau and China ceased to operate in early 2020.

In the absence of the fast ferries, the dolphins began to actively use the fairways. Researchers at WWF Hong Kong found that dolphins occurred in larger groups and socialised much more. 

WWF HK is now working with other stakeholders to maintain the area as a ferry-free zone. A survey was conducted to document public support for this initiative and the results show that rerouting ferries when the maritime border reopens is the preferred option, even though this means increased fares and longer travelling times. 

Chinese dolphin in the Ocean. The dolphin is pink in colour.

We need to become responsible Ocean users 

It is clear that we can travel and enjoy everything the Ocean has to offer, provided we understand and limit our impacts when indulging in these activities.  

As we seek solutions to aid sustainable reforms within shipping and cruise ships, learning and appreciating the Ocean and marine life is a great start to being more careful tourists, internationally or domestically.  

We have one Ocean and we need to protect it every day. 

*We would like to thank Dr Lindsay Porter, Senior Research Scientist at SEAMAR Hong Kong SAR for providing these invaluable insights.  

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Dear Ocean, sorry we didn’t write back

Seagull flying over the Ocean against the backdrop of an orange sunset shared by ocean Generation: experts in Ocean health since 2009.

To protect Earth’s most precious ecosystem – our Ocean – we must first understand its importance. Our Wavemaker Programme empowers young people between 16 – 25 to use their voice and talents to make a positive impact on our blue planet. This piece was written by one of our Wavemakers. Submit your own story.

The Ocean is the world’s most shared resource.

Social, economic and environmental sharing is caring

The Ocean is the world’s most shared resource. The vitality of the Ocean is necessary to support and sustain Earth and here’s why.

Covering over 70% of the planet, our Ocean takes responsibility for regulating our climate and weather from the poles to the equator.

As if her generosity wasn’t enough, the Ocean’s environmental benefits have continued to protect and conserve biodiversity and create global sources of natural carbon sinks. It does this by providing services to ecosystems, including coastal wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs.

Aerial view of a beach and the Ocean shared by Ocean Generation - experts in Ocean health since 2009.

Human health and Ocean health are connected

The health of our Ocean is intimately tied to our health. No, really…with every breath we take, with every drop we drink, we’re connected to her.

Not just physically, but emotionally. When we take a step back to enjoy the magnificent view of our Ocean (whilst adding her to our IG stories #SoGrateful), it welcomes a sense of calmness, for how life can be so gentle and beautiful.

But to take this mentality forward with how we care for her every day is the next essential step.

Why?

Well for one, the Ocean provides us with over 50% of the world’s oxygen.

No matter her physical forms, whether stormy and rough, warm and clear or frigid and cold, she, the Ocean, has always helped us breathe during our time on Earth and should never be gone unnoticed.

What resources does our Ocean provides us with?

The Ocean continues to provide a vast number of economic and social benefits, including: jobs, food, medicine, recreation and wonderment – to name a few.

Our Ocean boosts sustainable economic growth in some of the world’s poorest countries, which supports the well-being of coastal communities.

“[A healthy Ocean is] critical for combatting rural poverty, ensuring food security, improving nutrition and achieving zero hunger.”

José Graziano da Silva

Economically, about 38 million people rely on the fishing and fish-farming industry, 95% of whom live in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The economic benefits the Ocean provides has sparked several positive domino effects for many communities, including: food security, job security, sustainable trade in Ocean -based goods and services, sustainable shipping, and an attraction to sustainable tourism.

In addition, OECD confirmed that over 90% of the world’s trade uses sea routes thereby making the Ocean a heavily reliant agent to access essential resources and necessities, including food, medical supplies and drugs, and fuel.

It is important that we not only take notice but also speak about how many communities around the world have learnt to grapple and adapt to the Ocean’s gifts – as opposed to altering the Ocean to fit their needs, they learnt to navigate their lifestyles with the Ocean.

Island communities depend on the Ocean for their livelihoods. Image shows a scattering of islands in the Ocean with lush green trees and blue water/

The impact of our Ocean on communities:

Sri Lanka’s Ocean wealth

The island we know today as Sri Lanka has thrived on the Ocean’s economic resources as it has made remarkable contributions to the country’s economy.

Sri Lanka’s coastal zone hosts 1/3 of the country’s population, accommodates over 2/3 of all industrial facilities, and over 80% of tourism infrastructure.

As the Ocean provides social benefits for many communities, the wellbeing dependency on the Ocean is clear. These communities have been able to cultivate a sense of stability and economic growth, through fishing and aquatic agriculture. Moreover, the little island is well known for its touristic cities, from mountain tops to the clear, blue Ocean with its golden sand.

The tropical country’s sandy coast lines continue to attract many tourists to the Ocean, to soak in the sunsets and fresh air – reflecting again on the wonder and wellness the Ocean provides us.

Economic exploitation: The new high school bad boy

Unfortunately, utilising the Ocean‘s resources and services have come at a cost – exploitation and economic dominance.

The Blue Economy was a concept initiated with the goal of sustainably sourcing the Ocean’s resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and healthy ecosystems.

However, this goal became somewhat of a fever dream when humans started to deteriorate marine ecosystems, resulting in widespread biodiversity loss and habitat damage – sort of like when we were content with the High School Musical trilogy, but Disney thought we needed another version which ended up disappointing us…

Although the exploitation of marine resources was apparent in the 17th-19th century – where the Caribbean coral reefs, faced a massive loss of fish and sharks – the consequences are more distinct now.

How is our Ocean’s health today?

Today, overfishing, destructive fishing practices, and pollution are some of the major enemies facing the long-term nature of our Ocean. To add to the chaos, deep-sea mining is having a detrimental impact on her physical nature, and hindering on the Ocean’s health and societal benefits.

The power of our Ocean only continues to weaken as it loses its harness over the Earth’s environmental and climate systems due to climate change.

A spike in unprecedented environmental conditions, such as acidification, deoxygenation, more frequent marine heat-waves, and El Niño, and La Niña events are predicted to have severe negative impacts on marine ecosystems and species – and we thought the Kardashians carried all the drama.

While these major shifts in Ocean health may appear to feel ‘far off’ and ‘manageable’, our reliability on the Ocean is having greater deep-rooted effects on different demographics and societies than we know.

With over 3 billion livelihoods depending on the Ocean for jobs, 680 million living in low-lying coastal zones, and food security at risk (noticeably after COVID-19 hit), we need to emphasise, now more than ever, that without our Ocean’s wellbeing looked after, our survival is at stake.

Quote shared by Zayna - an Ocean generation Wavemaker. It says: It is time to rethink our choices and care for the life-support system that has been with us since the start of time.
Zayna is talking about the Ocean. On the image is a seagull against the backdrop of the Ocean.

Our apology to her will not be enough this time. It is time we take accountability and action to restore our Ocean.

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Our Impact: What resources do we extract from the Ocean?

This is part of our Four Pillars work that highlights the importance of the Ocean, the human-made threats it faces, and the solutions our Ocean provides.

Humans have been travelling across the Ocean for many millennia, with fishing being an important ancient practice.

Along with capturing food from the sea, we slowly recognised the Ocean as a valuable source for much more.

What are the impacts of extracting seafood from the Ocean?

Fast forward to present day, we now eat almost twice as much seafood, compared to 50 years ago. 

Offshore oil extraction has not been kind to marine life, with disruptions in the form of noise pollution, habitat destruction, and oil spills. And the Ocean is being glorified as a new frontier for mineral extraction from the seabed.

We’ve benefitted from a great deal of things we’ve extracted from the Ocean. But do we ever give back and allow the Ocean to replenish?

Do we assess the risks before we extract? Let’s take a closer look into some of the resources we want and how removing them impacts our Ocean.

What resources do we extract from the Ocean? Fossil fuels, animals, minerals and plants are all extracted from the Ocean for human use. Ocean Generation is breaking down what the impact of Oceanic resource extraction is.

How much do humans rely on the Ocean for food?

Animal protein from the Ocean provides around 17% of all animal protein consumed. The food we obtain from the Ocean and other water bodies are inextricably linked to many cultural identities.

From national dishes (Example: Senegal (Ceebu jën)) to fishing traditions (Example: in Finland), many coastal communities around the world uphold seafood as a pillar of cultural identity, livelihoods, food security, tradition and connection to the Ocean.

Global seafood production is on the rise

With global production of seafood quadrupling over the last 50 years, it is no surprise that wild catching has become unsustainable and cannot keep up with global demand.

Enter, aquaculture: A process where seafood is farmed, by corporations and farmers alike. There are many variations of aquaculture, depending on the location and type of organism being cultivated.

Is aquaculture the sustainable solution we’ve been looking for?

This booming method overtook seafood production from conventional fisheries by 12.26 million tonnes in 2015. It is important to note that aquaculture includes aquatic plants like seaweed as well.

Seaweed farmer walking along the shoreline with two big bundles of seaweed. Ocean Generation is sharing the impact of resource extraction on the Ocean.

Aquaculture has been touted for its high yields and added nutritional value, but sustainable production requires:

– careful consideration of the surrounding environment, so as to not burden wild species and damage coastal blue carbon ecosystems,

– sustainable supply of aquafeed, i.e., food for the cultured organisms, and

– adequate disease control among the cultivated populations.

Aquaculture supports the livelihood of over 540 million people (in 2014) with 19% being women.

To ensure a stable income and a stable Ocean, there is a need for better guidelines for operational safety and management to ensure healthy fish stocks.

However, food from the Ocean isn’t the only thing we extract…

What resources do we extract from the Ocean?

Drill baby, drill

From the dawn of time, humans have sparked revolutionary leaps through different forms of energy.
Although fire was a major leap in evolutionary standards, we exceeded our capabilities when we realised we could use ancient organic matter as fuel.

The oil and natural gas we extract powers our homes, our cars, manufactures plastic, and much more. Even their by-products are used, for example, tar to build roads.

But the relentless extraction of fossil fuels comes with a hefty price tag. It’s at the cost of our planet – including our Ocean.

How offshore oil and gas extraction effects the Ocean:

– Exploration: Exploring to identify location and size of reserves disrupts sound, harming marine life, small or big. However, nowadays, evolved techniques have drastically minimised their impact.

– Operational: Processes like drilling disrupt the Ocean floor, pollutes the environment (waste, noise) and also increases biodiversity loss.

– Large release of greenhouse gases, heavily contributing to climate change.

A common image that comes to mind when grasping pollution in this context is this: An animal drenched in oil.

Oil spills are a vicious consequence, not always caused by the process of extraction. In fact, the National Research Council estimates the origin as follows:

– 46% naturally seeping into the Ocean
– 37% discharged from operational processes in sea, and land-based sources
– 12% accidental spills from ships, and
– 3% extraction processes

Although the single largest source of oil pollution is natural, ecosystems have adapted to these natural stresses.

However, that is not the case when we spill oil. To tackle human-induced oil spills, progress has been made to better monitor spills and identify affected areas.

Overall, the reduction in fossil fuel extraction and its use will be beneficial to all life on Earth.

The fossil fuel industry has also provided strong learnings for the budding marine renewables industry (MRE).

How the Ocean supports the medical industry:

Did you know that plants and animals from the Ocean have been used to develop medicines for humans?

The Ocean’s incredible biodiversity has become a new frontier for discovering drugs to alleviate many health conditions.

We take antibiotics for many types of bacterial infections, but in recent years, antibiotics have been overused to the point of ineffectiveness, i.e., it has stopped working when attempting to treat serious conditions.

This resistance has pushed scientists to seek out new solutions. Scientists at NOAA have isolated a chemical compound from microorganisms found on sponges and corals that can be used as a helper drug to make antibiotics effective again, under certain circumstances.

Not all innovations are for medicinal purposes. Food supplements like omega 3, macroalgae (like seaweed) for biofuels and beauty products are all examples of ways in which the Ocean provides for us.

Seafood, minerals and fossil fuels. Is this everything the Ocean has to offer? Not even close! We haven’t even touched on technology, or makeup.

Are we including the health of the Ocean in this conversation? Not nearly enough. Let’s take a final look into something new and potentially disastrous…

New “solution,” same ol’ motives

Innovative solutions can lead to incredible human advancements – but it shouldn’t be at the cost of stripping the Ocean seabed.

Our technological revolution has come with a hefty price tag. The price of:

– mineral mining (conflict minerals, slavery, and generally poor working conditions),
– overconsumption (of electronics), and
– huge swathes of electronic waste.

This has resulted in extractive industries looking for new areas to source minerals, specifically, the Ocean.

Where do most minerals we need reside in the Ocean?

The deep sea.

Deep-sea mining is the process of extracting mineral deposits from the seabed. The Ocean is rich in minerals not only required for electronics like the laptop or phone you are reading this blog on, but also for batteries and scaling low-carbon renewable technologies like wind turbines and solar panels.

However, there is growing concern on whether this is a good idea or if we can extract these minerals safely.

We know scarily little about the environmental consequences of stripping the Ocean seabed, but it is clear that this is likely to cause severe disruptions to marine life, deep-sea ecosystems, and global climate regulation.

This complication is further fuelled by questions on economic viability and social acceptance. Despite approval licenses for some exploratory projects, deep-sea mining must not be commercialised without sufficient understanding of the consequences mentioned above.

What can I do about resource extraction in the Ocean?

We rely on the Ocean for so much more than we’ll ever realise. From our breath to our food to our health, we need the Ocean to thrive and there are ways in which we can help restore it.

On Seafood

To combat overfishing, we must generally consume less seafood to sustain fish stocks healthily. It is also wise to use your national food directories to understand what types of creatures are endangered to best avoid eating so that we can reduce the pressure on those populations.

This in combination with the environmental impacts of specific species can be a useful way to mitigate individual impacts. Let’s not forget to support local fishing communities!

On Minerals

Planned obsolescence is a conscious strategy for companies to artificially limit the life of a product. There is no better example of observing this than electronics:

Some of us grew up in households with washing machines and blenders that are older than us, just because it still functions! But nowadays, smartphones are replaced every few years, with some behaviour associated with trendsetting, something that we see in fast fashion.

This, among so many other reasons, is why we produce roughly 50 million tonnes of electronic and electrical waste per year. Unfortunately, formal recycling of these products is limited to 20%.

For further understanding the concept of planned obsolescence, watch the below video. As a solution, we must vouch for the Right to Repair the products we buy, rather than rely on the promises of recycling.

Even with that being said, we must push for better recycling of e-waste, as the precious metals we discard are in limited supply. To put this into perspective, there is 100 times more gold in a tonne of e-waste than in a tonne of gold ore.

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We cannot allow the Ocean to be a kind of scapegoat and maintain the false persona of endlessness.

There is only one Ocean and we must protect it because our life depends on it.

Why is the Ocean so important?

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Our Impact: Why is protecting our coastlines important?

This is part of our Four Pillars work that highlights the importance of the Ocean, the human-made threats it faces, and the solutions our Ocean provides.

Think of some of the most vibrant cities around the world: Mumbai, Istanbul, Dubai, Copenhagen, Tokyo. What do they all have in common?  

Shanghai coastal city at sunset. Ocean Generation is sharing the impact of coastal infrastructure development on the Ocean.

They are coastal cities. 

How does living on the coast impact human health?

Coastal regions can positively contribute to human health. Through the food we eat, the quality of air we breathe, and the water we drink, living by the Ocean can have a calming effect.

This is not to mention the wealth of economic and recreational opportunities that come with coastal areas.  

With 2.5 billion people within 100km of the coast living in 4% of land area within the same distance, it is no surprise that coastal regions are heavily concentrated. In fact, about 90% of population concentration is in coastal cities with populations of over one million.  

So what?  

What impact do coastal regions have on our blue planet?  

The coastal zone is the most urbanised region in the world, hosting 15 of the 20 megacities (cities with populations of over 10 million people).

This rapid urbanisation of coastal regions has cracks in planetary health that we notice more and more every day.  

The impacts of climate change on coastal communities are increasingly evident. With higher frequencies of natural events like cyclones and hurricanes, risk of erosion and land loss, salinisation, flooding and other cascading impacts, coastal regions have never been this vulnerable.  

Let’s investigate some ways coastal infrastructure impacts the Ocean and the organisms that call it home. 

Impacts of coastal development on the Ocean and Ocean life. Ocean Generation is spotlighting the impact of habitat destruction, construction of dams and marine renewable energy.

Building along our coasts causes habitat destruction 

Human activities are a key driver for habitat destruction.

This can be observed through: 

– Coastal and marine land reclamation, the process by which parts of the Ocean are formed into land (by infilling or building dykes, for example) 

– Infrastructure development for tourism (for example, resorts and recreational facilities) 

– Development of ports, harbours, and their management (including dredging) 

Habitat destruction occurs when a natural habitat, like a wetland, can no longer support the species present. The species are often destroyed or displaced.  

Thus, habitat destruction is a leading cause of biodiversity loss. With changes in physical and chemical compositions, invasive species tend to thrive in these areas, further driving out native species.  

Destruction of China’s Coastline: A quick study 

The most significant recent development is coastal and marine land reclamation, especially in China, with 1249.8km2 of ‘new’ land developed since the mid 1980’s.  

This can have many unintended consequences. In one study, scientists observed 19,793.4 hectares of coastal wetlands changed to inland wetlands enclosed by a seawall and dike, between 1989 and 2013. This cuts off the exchange of sediments and the flow of water between the wetland and the Ocean.  

In this case, more than 80% of the natural wetlands had been used to develop urban, industrial, and agricultural land uses. This can be seen as an ecological trade off in favour of human activities.  

A coastal wetland shared by Ocean Generation.

Coastal wetlands are resilient natural habitats, important for flood protection, carbon sequestration, habitat for wildlife, etc.

Destroying these natural habitats impact the Ocean, aquatic life, and humans too.  

The impact of building dams and reservoirs 

A dam is a barrier that holds back water whereas a reservoir is a human-made lake that stores water.

For thousands of years, dams and reservoirs have been built for irrigation, flood prevention, water diversion, and even warfare purposes. Nowadays, dams are also used to generate hydropower.  

Dam walls are often built for hydropower.

The construction of dams and reservoirs reduces sediment supply by varying degrees, sometimes by more than 50%, which leads to erosion. This can decay coastal ecosystems like mangroves and can even cause irreversible changes.  

Another concerning effect of dams is that they restrict the migration of fish. Many freshwater species rely on free-flowing rivers to complete their life cycles.  

The harm of building too many dams and reservoirs: A quick study 

A good example to understand this effect is by observing salmon populations. In the USA, between 1933 and 1975, 211 dams were built during the construction of a hydropower system in Columbia Basin. This led to a massive loss in the wild salmon population.  

Although hatchery and commercial aquaculture operations were underway, the wild salmon population failed to bounce back. Authorities had set a target for salmon recovery of 5 million, but after 34 years and $17.9 billion, they failed to meet this modest target.  

Salmon leaping from the water.

The ecological reality of the effects of human activities needs to be acknowledged alongside economic viability.  

It is not too late to include these considerations in the budding marine renewable industry. 

Tread lightly: Our Ocean’s role in the energy transition 

The Ocean has the potential to be at the heart of the energy transition. As we steer away from fossil fuels, the Ocean is enabling a new industry: marine renewable energy (MRE). 

This includes offshore wind, floating solar, tidal, wave and Ocean current energies. At present, offshore wind technology is the most mature and commercially viable, whereas some other technologies are still in the development phase.  

There is no doubt that MRE is less disastrous than fossil fuel extraction. But we must be careful not to ignore the environmental impacts of MRE. This is not a truly well understood area which makes this even more important.  

Environmental impacts of Marine Renewable Energy installations 

The underwater infrastructures for MRE installation, like cables and anchors, can affect benthic habitats like reefs and seagrass meadows, i.e., the bottom of the Ocean. It can also affect the open waters by changing its function and characteristics.  

A row of bottom fixed wind farms in the Ocean.

The effects of MRE can be observed through the creation of artificial reefs, and biofouling (invasive species) in offshore wind farms.  

Furthermore, there is a lack of research in the following areas: 

– Collision risks for fish (with underwater MRE infrastructure) 
– Associated fish behaviour 
– Environmental interactions between commercial fishing and offshore wind farms 
– Direct interactions between tidal turbines and specific seabird populations 

Although underwater noise is not an issue for operational MRE, the construction phase can have major impacts.

For example, noise generated from construction of fixed-bottom wind farms can mask echolocation sounds used by marine life for hunting, navigation, and communication. It also has the potential to impair hearing. To mitigate these effects, floating wind farms are preferable, as they do not require piling. 

As we have seen, avoiding, and minimising these environmental impacts will enable successful deployment of MRE technologies at a competitive cost. However, this is not possible without further research and additional data to truly understand these impacts.   

How can we build better along our coastlines?  

We need to understand our environmental impacts 

Currently, there is little incentive to research the environmental impacts of MRE technologies. We need robust environmental impact assessments, as well as lifecycle assessments to be as resource efficient and considerate to the Ocean and marine life.  

Despite a few environmental concerns, MRE technologies are still so much better than relying on fossil fuels, greatly mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. We must choose renewable energy where possible and strive to understand the potential impacts so we can avoid and reduce them. 

We need to account for ecosystems as a whole 

Considering an ecosystem as a whole means that we focus on restoring our ecosystems and enhancing ecosystem services to protect us from the effects of climate change.  

These kinds of measures are multi-disciplinary, which paints a better picture of what we are dealing with than traditional technical measures. This is especially needed for successful implementation of solutions to mitigate the negative effects of dams and reservoirs.  

We need to invest in nature-based solutions: 

Nature-based solutions focus on the protection, restoration, and management of natural and semi-natural ecosystems, to benefit both human beings and biodiversity.

The difference between nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based approaches can be found here

Investment in nature-based solutions like coastal blue carbon ecosystems (mangroves, seagrass etc.) are important for continual coastal security and carbon sequestration.

These solutions, in addition to adaptation strategies, will be key in protecting coastal and island communities. 

Growing mangrove trees. Mangroves are climate change heroes.

Support ongoing scientific consensus 

We continue to learn about the effects of our activities on the natural environment and subsequently, ourselves, as we unlearn that humans and nature are not separate entities.  

Following the latest evidence and implementing policies and practices to reflect those changes are key to limiting the damage we have done. We must not wait any longer as we have many reliable solutions already.  

Our hope to save and restore the Ocean starts on land.  

As with most climate initiatives affecting the Ocean, we must make sure our Ocean is part of the conversation. 
 

Why is the Ocean so important?

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Our Impact: How does climate change impact the Ocean?

This is part of our Four Pillars work that highlights the importance of the Ocean, the human-made threats it faces, and the solutions our Ocean provides.

Climate change impacts everything – including our Ocean

With rising temperatures and melting ice sheets, climate change has had a massive impact on the Ocean.

The changing composition of gases in the atmosphere is altering life as we know it. We must not allow this catastrophe to unravel any further.

But how did we get here?

The emerging issue of ‘climate change

Over the last century, many scientists have raised their concerns about global warming while the fossil fuel industry was booming.

Now, we know that these concerns have been validated many times over, through computer simulations and direct observations (tree rings, ice cores, etc).

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) it is now widely accepted that humans are the primary drivers of climate change, owing to the advent of burning fossil fuels.

What role does the Ocean play in the climate change conversation?

Our beloved recreational activities would not be possible without the Ocean

The Ocean helps regulate land temperature and drives global weather patterns.

It absorbs the sun’s heat, transferring it to the atmosphere and distributing it around the world, warming in the winter and cooling in the summer. In fact, more than 90% of the heat from global warming is stored in the Ocean acting as one of the most important carbon sinks on Earth.

The excess of emissions in the atmosphere has tampered with the Ocean’s capacity of storing it while still being able to thrive.

How can we understand the impact of climate change on the Ocean?

There are many indicators that help us understand the effects of climate change on the Ocean:

The leading climate change indicator in the Ocean: Sea level rise.

The rise in temperatures cause water to expand and ice sheets to melt. This results in sea level rise. Globally, the changes in sea levels are a leading indicator of climate change.

People using boats in response to flooding.

During the 21st century, the global mean sea level is likely to rise at least 30 cm even assuming more moderate greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades.

Even if adaptive measures are in place, global flood losses for coastal cities are predicted to increase from $6 billion in 2005 to $1 trillion by 2050.

Global warming of 4°C by 2100 would lead to a median sea-level rise of nearly 1 metre above the 1980 to 1999 levels. At today’s population distribution, that would threaten the lives and livelihoods of between 150 to 250 million people.

It goes without saying that the effects of sea level rise are already being felt in many parts of the world.

In Indonesia, 75% of the country’s cities are in coastal areas. With the country being prone to frequent natural disasters like flooding, tornadoes, and landslides, over 110 million people in the cities are exposed to the devastating impacts of climate change.

These impacts can often be felt alongside disruptions to agriculture (like rice fields), water resources (potential salinisation of ground water) and other resources.

Coral Bleaching

What is Ocean acidification?

As the Ocean gets warmer, we observe changes in the chemistry of the water. The reduced pH level of water has led to Ocean acidification, forming carbonic acid.

Global surface Ocean pH has declined on average by approximately 0.1 since the Industrial Revolution, with an increase in acidity of about 30%. 

This is making it harder for marine organisms (including larvae) to develop calcium carbonate shells and skeletons, increasing their vulnerability and harming their overall health. This invariably impacts food security due to the adverse effects on fisheries and aquaculture.

What’s the harm of Ocean deoxygenation?

Unfortunately, the warming Ocean also raises the oxygen demand of living organisms and as a result, there is less oxygen available for marine life.

Ocean oxygen levels have decreased by 2% in the past five decades and are expected to reduce a further 3–4% by 2100.

Oxygen depletion is one of the most serious threats to the coastal marine ecosystem including coral reefs and sea grass meadows, reducing biodiversity, limiting both the production of oxygen and sequestration of atmospheric CO2, and increasing the risk of coastal flooding.

A flooded coastal area.

The Ocean covers 70% of our planet – but it’s still impacted by climate change.

Here is a good introductory video outlining this topic:  

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[Credit: Global Weirding with Katherine Hayhoe, YouTube]

Woah, is the fate of our Ocean already sealed?

Fortunately, not yet.

We are alive in a crucial period of time, with the window of action and opportunity closing in on us.

The IPCC’s modelling suggests that the only way to limit global warming to 1.5C is we take immediate action after 2020, which is, well, now.

A woman's hand with green painted nail polish, a wedding ring and a silver bracelet reach out into the Ocean waves. We are connected to the Ocean - it provides our every second breath and supports all life on Earth.


In this scenario, emissions are projected to peak between 2020-2025. This means that we need to reduce emissions by 43% by 2030, and 84% by 2050.

Apart from phasing out fossil fuels, reducing global carbon and methane emissions is a key solution to slow down Ocean warming. Increasing Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) is another way of protecting large areas of the Ocean from further exploitation. We must also safeguard and restore coastal ecosystems which will benefit biodiversity and humans alike.

A healthy Ocean is key to achieving our climate goals.

If the Ocean thrives, so do we.

Why is the Ocean so important?

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Our Impact: It’s not just plastic polluting our Ocean

This is part of our Four Pillars work that highlights the importance of the Ocean, the human-made threats it faces, and the solutions our Ocean provides.

It’s not just plastic polluting our Ocean

With plastic encroaching so many parts of our lives since the 1950’s, it would be hard to find a person today who hasn’t heard of this life-changing material. Despite all its uses, it is undeniable that plastic is choking our Ocean. 

But it’s not just plastic.

Marine pollution can be observed in many different forms (see figure below).

From chemical waste to noise, let’s explore the alarming ways in which we pollute the Ocean.

Types of Ocean pollution: Plastic pollution, nutrient pollution, light, noise and industrial pollution. Ocean Generation is breaking down the kinds of pollution that impact our Ocean.

We are drowning in plastic  

Plastic is the greatest concern of all the marine litter in the Ocean.  

With 80% of plastic originating from land, it is clear that our mismanagement of plastic is threatening marine life. In fact, marine debris from waste streams on land and at sea into the Ocean from rivers are estimated at 1.15–2.41 million metric tons annually.  

Plastic also reaches the Ocean as a result of extreme events and natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, and tsunamis.

One study even states that millions of tons of plastic may reach the Ocean this way, matching the magnitude of plastic from land.  

The most common way plastic harms marine life is through entanglement. This is not to mention the repercussions felt through the food chain when species ingest plastics (and microplastics) unknowingly. 

From whales, to birds, to turtles, plastic is mistaken for prey and consumed with traumatic consequences like infections and internal injuries. 

In the UN report, Second World Ocean Assessment (WOA) 2021, it was stated that scientific and medical understanding of the health threat of plastic pollution was inadequate. But since then, scientists have published studies confirming the presence of plastic in our blood and lungs.

These findings have sparked a greater support for more research into the effects of plastic on human health. 

Changes to marine communities are far from being the only effects of pollution.  

Half of the image shows a beautiful blue, clean Ocean. The other half shows a polluted, grey, Ocean with plastic bottles and nutrient pollution. Ocean Generation shares ways to tackle plastic pollution and other Ocean threats.

The nutrients we allow into the Ocean 

The increasing amount of nutrients seeping into the Ocean aid the excessive growth of algae.

This is called nutrient pollution. When the nutrients in question are nitrogen and phosphorus (from organic matter), this process is called eutrophication. It results in undesired changes to the health of coastal ecosystems.  

Nutrient changes in the Ocean threaten: 

– Carbon sequestration which limits climate change, 
– Fisheries, affecting their mortality, 
– Abundance of biodiversity, 
– Production of oxygen, and the 
– Mitigation of coastal flooding.  

The single largest source of nitrogen and phosphorus are synthetic fertilisers.

Other agricultural inputs include animal husbandry and monocultures of legumes. Another source of nitrogen is the combustion of fossil fuels, releasing nitrogen in the form of NOx. 

The most prevalent source of nutrient pollution is human sewage.

This is not a surprise considering 80% of municipal wastewater being released into the environment is untreated. Regionally, treated sewage varies from 90% in North America, 66% in Europe, 35% in Asia, and 14% in Latin America and the Caribbean to less than 1% in Africa.  

This means that across the Ocean, we see an increase in phytoplankton and a decrease in oxygen levels. This disrupts fish stocks and increases the number of waterborne diseases.  

A water treatment plant.

But nutrients are not the only thing to worry about… 

Ocean pollution – in different industries: 

Industrial pollution can be observed from many sources. They are:

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs):
They are a complex group of substances known for their ability to endure in the environment. At present, we have observed declines in some regions, thanks to regulatory standards set by the Stockholm Convention but POPs are still a global concern.

For example, cetaceans have been detected with PCB (a kind of POP) concentrations which also affects the food chain, increasing the risk of cancer and infertility in humans. 

Metals:
Humans are responsible for large influxes of metals being released into the environment.

This includes metals such as mercury, lead, and cadmium but also rare earth metals. Metals do not disappear over time and can be trapped in sediments.

It was found that some Artic marine mammals are at high-risk with the concentration of methylmercury in their diet. This poses a risk to the food chain, and subsequently, human health. 

Radioactivity:
The discharge of radioactive substances into the Ocean from nuclear power plants continue to decline with the help of improved technologies. 

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products:
This includes all chemicals used for healthcare, cosmetics, and medical purposes. The process to remove these substances from wastewater is not efficient.

As a result, the most frequently detected compounds are antibiotics. There have been some cases like the antibiotic resistant bacteria and soil found in the Artic and Pacific but overall, there is limited data on the true impact of these products in the Ocean.  

Pharmaceuticals end up in our water stream and impact marine life. The image shows a white bowl filled with pills in different hues of blue.

Shipping:

Globally, there is a decreasing trend in oil spills (over 7 tons), possibly owing to improved surveillance and increased awareness.

Shipping also increases the likelihood of marine litter, with the World Shipping Council estimating that on average, a total of 1382 containers are lost at sea each year.  

Oil spills are catastrophic to Ocean health and hard to clean up.

Sound pollutes the Ocean (and we’re not considerate neighbours). 

Human-made noise makes its way into the Ocean via vessels, renewable energy development, sonar, and seismic exploration. Marine traffic also contributes to noise pollution.

Over the past 10 years, there’s been increasing interest in developing guidelines to regulate noise in the Ocean.  

We continue to learn and understand the impact of the noise we make on marine animals. Some of the observed examples are as follows: 

– Increased stress levels in North Atlantic right whales 
– Humpback whales: changes in foraging behaviour and vocal calls during breeding season 
– Fish and coral larvae are less able to select appropriate habitats 

Humpback whales are impacted by noise pollution. Image shows a close up of a humpback whale looking at the camera.

Hit the lights: Do you know how light pollution impacts marine life

Although all living beings are sensitive to light in the environment, if organisms are subjected to light at the wrong place and time with varying intensity, it’s known as light pollution.

This affects the behaviour of many marine mammals. For example, on one Turkish beach, light pollution from a coastal village, paper mill and a tourist resort resulted in less than 40% of logger-head turtle hatchlings being able to reach back to the shore.

They get disoriented and sometimes are at risk of predation.  

Baby turtle finding its way to the Ocean form the beach.

The most impactful way humans project artificial light is through urbanisation of coastal areas. The light we emit can be seen from space.

In fact, up to three quarters of seafloor close to coastal cities are exposed to artificial light. But other water bodies are not immune. In freshwater ecosystems, melatonin levels which are responsible for sleep or day and night cycles, are affected in freshwater fish. 

In the Ocean itself, offshore development is of concern when assessing light pollution. Artificial light at night can penetrate deep into water (over 40m) depending on the clarity of water, with humans having the most impact in the top one metre of water.  

Coastal city lit up at night near the Ocean. Cities never sleep.

What can we do to restore the Ocean?

We need to develop a wide range of solutions to combat the different types of pollution affecting the Ocean.  

To tackle plastic pollution, a Global Plastic Treaty is underway to ensure optimal waste management and promote sustainable consumption and production of plastics.

As a society however, it is still in our best interests to reduce our reliance on plastic where possible. We need to dispose plastic in the safest way possible, not allowing it in our waterways.  

Community garden featuring a middle aged Asian woman and young African child working in the garden.

Nutrient pollution can be curbed with the help of top-down approaches but also public awareness.

As a community, we can take a stronger stance and equip ourselves to monitor water quality, pushing for stronger policies. Those who have lawns and gardens can also minimise their pollutant run-off through many ways.  

Moreover, better sewage systems are needed to achieve standards set by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In India, for example, despite efforts to operate better systems, nutrient pollution still persists. Industry stakeholders must develop and promote solutions to address pollutants in the agricultural sector. Innovative solutions are needed to reduce emissions and spills in shipping.  

Lastly, there is a need to promote and fund the research required in further understanding all these issues because our Ocean is running out of time, awaiting solutions for the threats we’ve created.  

There is only one Ocean, and it connects us all. 

Why is the Ocean so important?

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The History of Plastic Pollution

Understanding the plastic problem

Worldwide, up to five trillion plastic bags are used every year and up to 422 million tonnes of plastic are being produced annually.

As if that isn’t bad enough, half of all plastic produced is for single-use purposes, meaning it’s used once and then thrown away. In reality, there is no ‘away’ for a material designed to be indestructible.

For decades, our Ocean has been a dumping ground for plastic, sewage, industrial and chemical waste. While the Ocean is vast, it’s not bottomless and it’s certainly not a landfill site.

Single-use plastics are the biggest contributors to marine litter and pose severe threats to marine life, human health, and the planet. But how did we get here? When was plastic created? What can we do to take action and reduce the plastic polluting our blue planet?

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What is the history of Ocean pollution?

We’re used to having our rubbish collected, sorted, recycled or put into landfill – but for millennia, people didn’t dispose of their waste as we would today.

Instead, waterways were used as a means of waste disposal or rubbish would be burned. As a result, pollution would end up in our Ocean or in the atmosphere.

Before the advent of plastics, and with a relatively small population, the amount of waste in the Ocean was rather small. 

The invention of plastic: The dawn of pollution

In 1862, Alexander Parkes developed the first man-made plastic. The product, called ‘Parkesine’, wasn’t a commercial success, but it was an important step in the development of man-made plastic.

A staggering number of plastic innovations emerged in the period surrounding World War II, from 1933 – 1945. Plastic technology came to the forefront because copper, aluminium, steel and zinc became highly sought-after metals used only for the war effort.

In the 1960s, it became clearer how polluted our Ocean was getting.

A styrofoam food pack from a grocery store, which usually contains meat or fish, is filled with plastic pollution found in the Ocean: a discarded can of soda snack wrappers, tissues, and plastic packaging. A label on the front reads: Catch of the Day. Atlantic Ocean. In this article, Ocean Generation shares the history of plastic pollution.

Hold on: What is marine pollution?

Marine pollution refers to waste ending up in the Ocean and causing adverse effects. Specifically, marine pollution is a result of human impacts. A combination of chemicals and trash – most of which comes from land – is tossed, washed, or blown into the Ocean.

When was Ocean pollution – specifically, Ocean dumping – first reported?

We can assume that Ocean dumping has been in practice before anyone investigated it, partly because scientists didn’t attempt to research this issue before the 1960s. Many organisations used to dump their chemical by-products into waterways to remove their waste. 

In the 1960s, scientists from the National Academy of Sciences discovered some alarming news: More than 100 million tonnes of waste had been dumped in our Ocean.

This report discounted plastic pollution, which we now know is one of the major pollutants in our Ocean, because it had just recently become a mainstream material. Instead, the Ocean pollution that these scientists reported largely relates to chemical, industrial and sewage waste. 

How have plastics developed into a major Ocean polluter?

Between the 1970’s and 1990’s,
plastic waste generation more than tripled.

Realisation hit in the 1970’s: Plastic doesn’t ‘go away’ and it doesn’t break down; it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, called microplastics. 

During this period, there was a significant rise in plastic production too, which resulted in more and more pollution. Scientists also discovered that seabirds were ingesting plastic materials and seals were getting trapped in plastic netting.

Scene from a beach clean. White tennis shoes of a litter picker are visible. The beach cleaner is picking up a pink plastic bottle off the beach. In the background, a plastic trash bag can be seen. Ocean Generation shares the history of plastic pollution in this blog.

How have we tried to de-pollute the Ocean?

There have been legislative attempts to de-pollute the Ocean and remove plastic from our waterways. 

Four years after the National Academy of Sciences scientists discovered how much waste had really been dumped into the Ocean, the U.S Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries act.

By the 1980s, the Society of the Plastics Industry developed the plastic resin identification code, to make recycling and disposing of plastics easier. But our reliance on plastic had already taken hold. 

In the early 2000s, the amount of plastic waste we generated rose more in a single decade than it had in the previous 40 years.

Plastic pollution has negative consequences for all life on Earth.

Even though we know plastic pollution is bad for our blue planet, we continue to produce millions of tonnes of plastic from plastic bottles and plastic forks to plastic shopper bags to giant plastic commercial containers.

A key reason plastic continues to contribute to marine pollution is lack of awareness.

From individuals to businesses to governments – if we don’t understand the problems associated with plastic pollution and the importance of having a healthy Ocean, we won’t do anything to change our ways.

As of 2022, there are 8 billion people on Earth. We need millions of those people understanding that a healthy Ocean is essential to a healthy future for all life.

Necessary legislation to reduce plastic production and pollution will only be implemented when the masses understand how necessary that legislation is.

Up to 422 million tonnes of plastic is being produced annually.

What does the future of our Ocean look like?

We make decisions about what to purchase and what to wear daily. Choices made about how we live right now will impact the Ocean for decades to come.

So, the future health of our Ocean isn’t set. We have the ability to decide the magnitude of the plastic pollution problem. We can start making choices today to turn the tide.

Seagulls in flight. With the Ocean int the background, four seagulls are in various stages of taking flight; their wings flapping as they set off. Ocean Generation - experts in Ocean health since 2009 - shares the history of plastic pollution in this article.


We can right the wrongs of our plastic pollution history, and embrace the Ocean as the life supporting ecosystem that it is, rather than use it as a dumping ground. 

We are the first generation to deeply understand Ocean issues, and the last generation who can stop them. We are all the Ocean Generation.

How can I start taking Ocean and climate action?

Get informed. Our monthly newsletter provides Ocean positive news, easy to understand Ocean science, and engaging pop-culture pieces to help you understand the human-made threats our Ocean faces and what you can do to make a difference. 

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15 Plastic Pollution Facts You Should Know

15 science-backed plastic pollution facts, shared by Ocean Generation: experts in Ocean health since 2009. Read to learn about marine pollution, microplastics, and how plastic impacts human health.

We’ve become dependent on single-use plastic products.

And the reason why isn’t hard to find. Plastic is cheap, convenient and was made to last forever – but as plastic pollution has severe environmental and health consequences for our blue planet.

Understanding key facts about plastic pollution is the first step to rethinking our relationship with it, and ensuring a healthier, more sustainable future all life on Earth.

We’re breaking down 15 facts about plastic pollution – backed by science and our expertise as experts in Ocean health since 2009. Find out how plastic enters the environment, its impact on wildlife, what microplastics are, and how it effects our health below. 

15 Plastic pollution facts you need to know:

1. Up to 422 million tonnes of plastic are being produced each year.


The amount of plastic produced every year weighs more than all of humanity (estimated at 316 million tonnes in 2013).

2. Up to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter the Ocean every year.


If waste management practices don’t improve, scientists predict this amount could increase tenfold by 2025.

Single-use plastic items are the biggest contributors to marine litter (it is estimated that 1 – 5 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year).

3. Plastics make up to around 75% of marine litter, although this can be up to 100% at some sites. 


Plastic in the Ocean breaks up into smaller fragments called microplastics, which have been identified in commercial fish and thus, consumed by humans.

4. Plastic in the Ocean breaks up into smaller fragments called microplastics.


Plastic will never go away. These microplastics have been identified in commercial fish consumed by humans.

What are microplastics?

Microplastics are small plastic pieces measuring less than 5 millimetres.

While some microplastics are intentionally made small (like microbeads in facial scrubs and industrial abrasives used in sandbags), others have been formed by breaking away from larger plastic products.

Due to large amounts of plastic pollution, microplastics can now be found everywhere on Earth – from Mount Everest to the Mariana Trench; the deepest part of our Ocean.

Explained: What are microplastics, where do they come from and what can we do about them?
Read: For the first time, in March 2022, plastic was found in human blood.

5. Half of all plastics are single-use applications, meaning they’re used just once and disposed of.


We are all guilty of using single-use plastic items. From shampoo bottles to make-up products, plastic forks, and straws – single-use plastic is part of our daily lives.

Small behaviour changes can make a massive impact in reducing the flow of plastic pollution to the Ocean.

The next time you’re at the store, reaching for a single-use plastic item, stop and consider: Is there a more sustainable product I can use? If not, think of ways you can reuse your plastic items instead of discarding of them once you’re done.

6. Plastic was invented 150 years ago.


When we see the stat, ‘Plastic takes 450 years to decompose’ we reply, ‘How is that known?’ Plastic hasn’t been around long enough for us to confirm that.

Instead of breaking down, it’s more accurate to say plastic breaks up.

Plastic is indestructible; it was designed to defy nature, and designed not to decompose. Plastic just gets smaller, making it harder to remove from the Ocean.

7. Birds are highly susceptible to plastic ingestion.


It is estimated that over 90% of all seabirds have ingested plastic.

8. There is no giant floating island of plastic at the centre of the Pacific or any other parts of the Ocean.


The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch is invisible from the surface.

Plankton nets, however, reveal the true nature of the plastic problem: An accumulation of microplastics that fill up each net in concentrations that increase towards the Ocean’s centre.

9. Plastic acts as a sink for chemicals in the environment, and transports them.


When plastic is mistakenly consumed by marine life, plastic chemicals are released and stored in the fatty tissue of the animal. 

Those chemicals travel up the marine food chain, magnifying in concentration on their way up. Eventually, the plastic in fish reaches and gets consumed by people.

10. Chemicals are added to plastic during its production.


Chemicals are added to plastics to give the products certain properties. Some of the chemicals, known endocrine disruptors, have been linked to critical diseases including birth defects, cancer, autoimmune disease, infertility and cognitive and behavioural disorders.

So, plastic isn’t just polluting our Ocean – it’s polluting our bodies.

11. Crustaceans tested at the deepest point of our Ocean have ingested plastic.


Animals from the deepest places on our blue planet have been found with plastic in their stomachs, confirming fears that man-made fibres have contaminated the most remote places on Earth.

12. People living along rivers and coastlines are the most impacted by plastic pollution.


It’s been reported that China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are the most impacted by plastic pollution.

13. Low-income communities face more health impacts near plastic production sites.


Communities with low incomes have greater exposure to toxins and plastic waste, and bear the brunt of the impacts of improper plastic disposal and incineration.

14. Annual plastic production has skyrocketed since the early 1950s, reaching 322 million tonnes in 2015.


These numbers do not include synthetic fibres used in clothing, rope and other products which accounted for 61 million tonnes in 2016.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts a 3.5 – 3.8% growth in plastic production per year through 2050. As of 2019, we’re seeing proof of this – with production of single-use plastics increasing despite our growing awareness of their negative impacts.

15. Bioplastics are not not as green as they seem. Approach with caution.


Though companies often market bioplastics under the same umbrella as biodegradable products, they are not necessarily biodegradable.

Most bioplastics require very specific conditions to break down effectively. They also do not solve the litter or throwaway culture problem.

What is plastic – really?

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Myths about Plastic Pollution

We're debunking 5 widely believed myths about plastic pollution. 1. There is no floating island of plastic in the Ocean...

Breaking down 5 myths about plastic pollution 

There are many plastic pollution myths out there. We’re here to dispel myths about plastic pollution and provide science-backed facts about plastic pollution.

What equips Ocean Generation to bust plastic misinformation? Science underpins all of our work; we’ve been experts in Ocean health since 2009 and released an award-winning documentary ‘A Plastic Ocean’ in 2016. Learn more about us.

Fact VS Fiction: Here’s what you need to know about plastic.

Myth: ‘There is a huge floating island of plastic out in the Pacific Ocean, 3 times the size of Texas called, ‘The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.’

Simply, there isn’t.

This is a common myth about the Ocean.

There is no giant floating island of plastic at the centre of the Pacific or any other parts of the Ocean.

The so-called ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is invisible from the surface. Plankton nets reveal the true nature of the problem which is an accumulation of microplastics that fill up each net in concentrations that increase towards the Ocean centre.

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats our Ocean faces. In this waterline image of the Ocean, microplastics are visible.

Myth: ‘A plastic bottle will take 450 years to break down.’

Plastic taking 450 years to break down is one of the biggest plastic myths.

The truth is: Plastic doesn’t breakdown; it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces.

Plastic has only been around for 150 years – so, we also can’t put a timeframe on how long it will be around for. Read: The History of Plastic Pollution.

This statistic – about plastic breaking down – come from old educational materials released by the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The original source adds the caveat that “many scientists believe plastics never entirely go away. These decomposition rates are estimates for the time it takes for these items to become microscopic and no longer be visible.” As well as oversimplifying the risk, this irresponsible statistic about plastic pollution ignores the threat of microplastics.

Plastic is indestructible, it was designed to defy nature, designed not to decompose.

Does a plastic bottle take 450 years to breakdown? No. This is a plastic pollution myth. A hand, crumpling a plastic bottle is visible. Ocean Generation is sharing the facts behind this widely believed myth.

Myth: ‘By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the Ocean.’

This statement first appeared on a report written by Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum (WEF) and has since been used widely by the public and some organisations.

However, there are a few issues with it. 

The estimation number of fish (fish stock) in the Ocean is based on a prediction from a 2008 article. The statistic assumes that fish stocks will stay constant until 2050. This is incredibly unlikely due to pressures from overfishing, climate change, and plastic pollution itself. The authors have since predicted higher Ocean biomass than previously thought. 

Our concern is that we are destroying the deep Ocean bed before we even begin to know and understand the marine life there as new species are being discovered all the time. 

The projection for the amount of plastic in the Ocean by 2050 was drawn from the well-known 2015 study which only quantifies Ocean plastic up to 2025. According to BBC’s investigation, the lead author voiced their lack of confidence.  

Due to these uncertainties, it is best not to use this statement to get across the crux of the message, i.e., we cannot allow the current rate of plastic production to continue, and we must sever our reliance on plastic where possible.  

At current rated, there will come a time when there is more plastic than fish in the Ocean. Ocean Generation is sharing facts about plastic and debunking plastic pollution myths.

Myth: ‘We can recycle our way out of our plastic pollution problems.

We need to stop thinking that we can recycle our way out of this mess. Recycling is not the answer to the our wide-scale plastic production and consumption behaviours.

The plastic recycling process is now a circular process.

Only 13% of plastic get recycled and only 1% of plastic produced goes through the recycling process twice. 

Plastic production must decrease, yet it is currently increasing exponentially and recycling does nothing to abate this. This is because most plastic decreases in quality each time it is recycled, until it loses its value entirely and virgin plastic must be created.

View from inside a recycling bin: A hand is visible, throwing something into recycling. Ocean Generation is sharing why recycling is not the solution to our plastic pollution problem.

Myth: ‘We should replace tarmac with recycled plastic for our road surfaces.’

This is a measure supported by some of the biggest producers of plastic waste, yet it is rife with risks.

Studies have already revealed that the second biggest input of microfibres into our Ocean are the fibres that come from car tyres.

How might that increase if we start covering our roads with plastic too?

Research is only beginning into the nanoplastics in the air that we breathe. How might vast stretches of plastic-covered roads contribute to these, especially on hot days?

Car driving on a coastal road beside the Ocean. In this article, Ocean Generation shares why having roads made with recycled plastic has a negative impact on planet and human health.

What can I do about plastic pollution?

You’re already taking action to protect our blue planet: You’re getting informed.

Tackling a problem as big as plastic pollution can feel overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to. 

Action you can take against plastic pollution right now

  1. Add impact to your inbox.

    We send our a monthly newsletter with practical actions you can take, Ocean positive stories, and understandable environmental science. No fear-mongering. No big data. No expectations that you become a ‘perfect’ environmentalist.

  2. Read: 20 actions you can take against plastic pollution daily.

  3. Read: 15 Plastic pollution facts you should know.

  4. Watch: What is plastic?

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