How Ocean Pollution Effects Impact Our Planet

By Angela Tague in Thinking Sustainably

There's no denying an ocean view's relaxing yet rejuvenating vibe. Whenever my toes are firmly nestled into a sandy beach, I feel a sense of awe and resilience. As I walk along the shoreline, I also pause to pick up trash previous visitors left behind and wish that everyone understood how ocean pollution effects impact us all.

According to the United Nations (UN), the ocean generates 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe each day and absorbs 25 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, working hard to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and stabilize the climate. So, that beautiful body of water is not only scenic—it's essential.

windmills by the ocean

How Ocean Health Impacts the Planet

When I was in college, I studied abroad in Australia. Here, I had the opportunity to explore pristine mangroves and swim off the coast of Queensland near the Great Barrier Reef. Of course, the crystal clear water, rainbows of colorful fish, and lively coral were amazing. But I had no idea they were also working hard to keep the planet healthy. As it turns out, healthy oceans and climate change management go hand in hand.

Much like state parks on land, some areas of the ocean are protected. Per the UN, approximately 6.35 percent of the ocean is set aside for conservation to protect the mangroves, coral reefs, and other natural features.


The trees, plants, seagrasses, and soil at the water's edge harness up to four times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than a terrestrial forest. This carbon-rich environment builds a thriving ecosystem for fish, increases water quality, supports plant growth, and offers natural protection against flooding and storm damage along the coast. (This is important since more than 600 million people live in coastal zones). Simply put, healthy mangroves are nature's protective barrier for many families, especially in underdeveloped countries lacking weather alert systems and modern infrastructure.

Coral Reefs

Those spectacular coral reefs are home to over 25 percent of the ocean's marine biodiversity. They also provide coastal protection, are a source of medicine and food, and boost coastal economies that rely on tourism.

A Key Renewable Energy Source

Have you ever noticed it's often windy at the beach? Well, engineers have too. That's why renewable energy providers have learned to harness the energy the tides, waves, and ocean breezes create. Wind power energy sources don't emit carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and climate change. Scientists are also exploring how to use seawater currents' kinetic and thermal energy to produce electricity and heat.

ocean bird with trash in beak

Oceans and Climate Change: Threats to Ocean Health

The Ocean Panel from the World Resources Institute holds firm that the ocean can solve many of the world's environmental challenges, but we must do our part first. Without intervention, it predicts the annual flow of plastics into the ocean will triple to approximately 29 million metric tons per year by 2040.

Other ocean pollution effects include:

  • The ocean has absorbed more than 90 percent of the excess heat human activities produce, increasing water temperatures and impacting climate change.
  • Plastics and other ocean pollution are acidifying the water, causing coral reefs to die, tourism to dwindle, and fish stock to decline. This impacts global food security and causes coastal economies to struggle.
  • The World Animal Foundation estimates there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. And sadly, almost 100 million sea animals pass away from plastic pollution each year.

Additional ocean pollutants include solid garbage, unfiltered storm runoff (e.g., fertilizers, lawn chemicals, agricultural production chemicals), illegal dumping of manufacturing waste, oil spills, and animal manure.

Turning the Tide on Ocean Pollution Effects

Simply by reading this article and elevating your awareness, you're making a change. How? Because you're more likely to tell a friend about what you learned or make future choices that create a ripple effect to improve the environment's health.

Bodhi Patil, a climate change activist who's educating others about the relationship between oceans and climate change, puts it this way: "The ocean is the Earth's largest source of water. That's why it's called the Blue Planet. My journey as an ocean guardian started from a place of deep connection to water and the understanding that water is life." You can follow that mindset, too. Here are a few ideas to help protect this vital resource:

Use Your Recycling Facilities

It's easy to start slacking when life gets busy. Are you properly sorting and recycling everything you possibly can from your household? Maybe it's time to hit the reset button and ramp up your recycling superpowers.

Refuse Single-Use Plastic

Say no to grocery bags, straws, and takeout drink cups whenever possible. Instead, use washable, reusable equivalents such as cloth shopping bags, glass straws, and metal bottles.

Get Political

The Oceanic Society recommends getting involved at the local, state, or national level to advocate for legislation that reduces plastics production and improves waste management. Start by attending a city council meeting to see what's going on in your community.

two people picking up trash at the beach

Energize Your Community

Do you live in a coastal area? Get involved with a community cleanup day—or organize one yourself. Picking up trash from the shoreline is a great way to help out at the grassroots level and show others in your circle how easy it is to make a difference and reduce harmful ocean pollution effects.

Shop Smart

Buy from companies that support green shipping corridors, shipping routes that support zero-emissions technologies in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Also, look for blue economy businesses that value sound shipping practices that minimize ocean harm.

Avoid Microbeads

Microbeads are tiny pieces of plastic added to personal care products, such as facial cleansers, toothpaste, and body wash, to aid in scrubbing. When these microbeads get rinsed down the drain, they accumulate, polluting waterways and affecting wildlife.

Ocean health is directly linked to climate health and, ultimately, human health. After all, water is the common element that sustains all living things. Looking for more inspiration? Check out the Tom's of Maine Incubator Program to learn how five BIPOC environmental leaders are raising awareness and generating solutions to our greatest environmental challenges.

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The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

Understanding how the ocean's ecosystem impacts our climate, health, economy, and way of life is the first step to being a better steward of the planet. The more you know, the better you can make choices that benefit the environment.