Ocean Dumping: Key Issues Liz Gomez Ocean Dumping: Key Issues Marine debris is the official designation and referents to human created wastes that pollutes and are dumped deliberately or accidentally in lakes, waterways, seas and oceans. While certain debris naturally float on bodies of water (i. e. ogs and trees that got cut via natural events), certain communities, peoples and industries the world over deliberately dump debris and garbage in bodies of water without much thought into the effects of such acts in relation to threats to animals (fish, sea mammals, birds, reptiles) their habitats, coastal habitations and to human industries that depend on the bounty of the sea (i. e. fishing). Of late the greatest threat are the toxins released via the practice of ocean dumping which can destroy so easily fragile ocean habitats.
Plastic and Styrofoam’s, being non-biodegradable cannot breakdown and affect ocean and water inhabitants in so many ways – accumulated debris prevents photolysis, a component in photosynthesis killing marine life. Ghost nets and accumulated plastic as well as unique debris like six-pack rings can entangle marine life and result to movement restriction which can lead to starvation, laceration, infection and eventually, death. Dugongs, dolphins, sharks, reptiles, sea turtles and all sorts of fish can easily get entangled with ghost nets.
Plastic bags and plastic pellets – the broken down versions of plastics via weathering clog the digestive tract of marine animals and where they pool, prevent photolysis as well. It does not help that the smaller pellets, known as nurdles resemble fish eggs. Populations of fish and sea mammals often mistake them for fish eggs and their ingestion result to death. Ever since man started sailing, the ocean has become a dumping ground for debris and materials. Greenpeace estimates that annually, containers ships lose about 10,000 containers while at sea.
Adding to marine debris is the runoff from landfills & storm drains. The danger in the toxic contamination via ocean dumping can be seen in varied incidents in the Arctic Sea. In the 50’s Russia dumped highly radioactive materials in their own part of the Arctic – the Barents Karas Sea but the toxicity spread through the rich fishing grounds of the international and open waters of the sea that it affected and threatened fish populations and the industry of Arctic Sea Fishing.
Of recent, the experience of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico showed how fragile marine biology is as species of marine life got heavily affected which in turn affected the fishing and tourism industries of the towns and cities around the gulf which destroyed livelihoods and way of life. Aside from the issues listed above, key concerns in relation to how ocean dumping affects human life are identified as follows (Burger, 2009) – 1) Occupational accidents, injuries, and exposures; ) Exposure of the public to hazardous or toxic materials washed up on beaches; 3) Human consumption of marine organisms that have been contaminated by ocean disposal. A further complication is the practice of legal dumping where countries (including the US) allow dumping of materials into the sea/ocean following certain situations and measures. Environmental organizations have since been advocating against such measures. To counteract them however, in the case of the US, the following measures have been put in place – • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, • Water Pollution Prevention and Control Act, • Air Pollution Prevention and Control Act, Dangerous Cargo Act, • Ports and Waterways Safety Act, • Deep Water Ports Act, • Ocean Dumping Act Of the above, the biggest act with a direct impact on ocean dumping is the last measure, the Ocean Dumping Act. Enacted in 1988, with additional amendments the EPA presents the highlights of the act today as follows (EPA, 2010) – • TITLE I – OCEAN DUMPING BAN ACT OF 1988 (Amends the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act, commonly called the “Ocean Dumping Act”) Makes it unlawful for any person to dump, or transport for the purpose of dumping, sewage sludge or industrial waste into ocean waters after December 31, 1991; • Prohibits, after the 270th day after enactment, any person from dumping, or transporting for the purpose of dumping, sewage sludge or industrial waste into ocean waters unless the person: (1) enters into a compliance or enforcement agreement (which includes a plan negotiated by the dumper, the State, and EPA for terminating dumping as well as a schedule which EPA believes will result in the termination of the dumping), and (2) obtains a permit issued by EPA under authority of sec. 02 of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA); • Provides for the payment of special fees for dumping and any penalties incurred by a dumper to be deposited into certain funds for use in finding alternatives to ocean dumping. • TITLE II – DESIGNATION OF AREAS FOR PRIORITY CONSIDERATION UNDER NATIONAL ESTUARY PROGRAM • This title adds four new areas to the list of sites which EPA must give priority consideration when designating new estuaries for inclusion in the National Estuary Program: Massachusetts Bay; Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary Complex, Louisiana; Indian River Lagoon, Florida; and Peconic Bay, New York. TITLE III – DUMPING OF MEDICAL WASTE • Cited as the “United States Public Vessel Medical Waste Anti-Dumping Act of 1988”, this section prohibits, 6 months after enactment, disposal of potentially infectious medical waste into ocean waters by a “public vessel”. Two narrowly crafted exceptions to this prohibition relating to health and safety of the crew, or times of war or national emergency are set forth. This title also: defines “medical waste” for purposes of the Ocean Dumping Act; adds medical wastes to the list of materials the dumping of which is prohibited under the Ocean Dumping Act; increases the civil penalties for illegal dumping of medical wastes under the Ocean Dumping Act and includes a provision for forfeiture of the vessel; and provides increased criminal sanctions under the Ocean Dumping Act for illegal dumping of medical wastes; defines “medical waste” for purposes of the CWA using the same definition as for the MPRSA; and, incorporates the term “medical waste” into the list of pollutants for which the discharge is prohibited under sec. 301(f) of the CWA. • TITLE IV – SHORE PROTECTION ACT OF 1988 • This section prohibits the transportation of municipal or commercial waste within coastal waters by a vessel without a permit and number or other marking. The Secretary of Transportation will issue the permits. The application procedure is set forth. Grounds on which a permit may be denied are set forth. The federal Department of Transportation has discretion to deny permits, but must deny a permit if so requested by EPA. Other specifics as to this process are detailed. Opinion
The advocacies of Greenpeace and agencies campaigning against ocean dumping are clear in their message. Ocean Dumping is not conducive to maintaining ecological balance and while for now it might be immediately beneficial to those legally allowed to dump waste in our oceans, in the end when the toxicity level reaches concentrations that are deadly, there will come a point where it some areas of our oceans and bodies of water will become ‘dead’ – marine life would not be supported and the toxicity from such concentrated pollution will easily affect other parts of struggling marine environments. Fishing and related industries will be affected and human life dependent on marine bounty will be deeply affected.
To me, it seems that because of the vastness of the planet’s oceans and the lack of a universal enforcement body and law that can require countries and their citizens to ensure that all these rules are followed, it would seem that some of these advocacies and campaign fall into deaf earns. There are shorelines and coastlines the world over that are now full of debris, coral reefs have died, former healthy fishing habitats have now dried up. What I find most problematic is the ‘legal dumpings’ – if environmental protection of oceans is a priority surely dumpings that no doubt will increase ocean debris and contribute to water toxicity should not be tolerated.
So far however in international waters, without the activity of advocates like Greenpeace, the negative effect of ocean dumping will most certainly not find its way into public concerns. A country can only police its own people and its shorelines. I believe that globalization has increased man’s activities in relation to manufacture travel and trade and pollution brought about by ocean dumping will no doubt have long term affects to the health and state of marine life all over the world. A universal measure to counteract this problem and the creation of an international agency empowered by the UN for example should be put in place to ensure that the problem does not escalate. I doubt this will happen anytime soon, however.
The 1982 UN Convention on The Law of the Sea (UNCLOS 1982) which was enforced in 1994 is the closest but is limited for it only provides a ‘framework for the determination of the rights and obligations of states relating to the oceans’ only. While ‘Part XII contains provisions with regard to protection and preservation of the marine environment’ – they are still just non-working provisos that are having problems in terms of enforcement. Without an agency tasked to reinforce the provisos, the Law of the Sea remains ineffective. References: http://www. enotes. com/public-health-encyclopedia/ocean-dumping http://archive. greenpeace. org/odumping/ http://www1. american. edu/ted/arctic. htm http://www. epa. gov/history/topics/mprsa/02. htm http://www. pollutionissues. com/Na-Ph/Ocean-Dumping. html