5 Sources of Ocean Pollution Explained

Sources of ocean pollution are; terrestrial runoff, energy facilities, municipal waste outlets, maritime transport, and airborne contaminant outlets.

These sources are mostly non-point in nature, meaning that their origin cannot easily be traced to a singular, definite point on a spatial or temporal scale.

This article discusses the sources of ocean pollution, as follows;



1). Terrestrial Runoff (as one of the Sources of Ocean Pollution)

Terrestrial or land-based runoff is a major source of contaminant influx into oceans.

Contaminants carried in terrestrial runoff include sediments, nutrients, plastics and sediments.

Terrestrial runoff as a source of marine pollution, shares ties with manmade and natural hazards like flooding, severe erosion, plastic pollution, and stormwater pollution.

Such runoff usually carries contaminants from any of various terrestrial outlets including industrial waste facilities, landfills, agricultural lands, sewage systems and greywater management facilities.

Studies have shown that terrestrial runoff can be a hazardous source of ocean pollution, and can affect both abiotic and biotic components of the marine ecosystem like coral reefs and marine organisms [1].


2). Energy Facilities

The exploitation of marine (and terrestrial) energy resources can be a source of ocean pollution.

This could occur in any of several forms.

Ocean pollution may be a result of oil spills in the course of offshore oil and gas projects; or of effluents from nuclear power plants and other electricity generation or energy management facilities.

Underwater pipeline leaks may also cause ocean pollution, and even renewable energy systems like offshore wind farms and wave power converters, may contribute to submarine noise pollution.

Terrestrial energy facilities like steam turbine-based power plants can cause thermal marine pollution.

Lastly, ocean acidification (which is one of the types of ocean pollution) can result from absorption of greenhouse gases released from energy facilities.


Sources of Ocean Pollution: Energy Facilities (Credit: U.S. — NOAA 1979)
Sources of Ocean Pollution: Energy Facilities (Credit: U.S. — NOAA 1979)


3). Municipal Waste Outlets (as one of the Sources of Ocean Pollution)

Municipal waste outlets arguably constitute the most prominent source of ocean pollution, in terms of the volume of pollutants released from such outlets into the ocean.

Usually, municipal waste enters oceans as a result of indiscriminate dumping [2].

This is especially the case in human-occupied coastal areas. It is not uncommon for oceans to be converted to waste dump sites in the absence of functional environmental regulations.

Examples of pollutants released from municipal waste outlets into marine water bodies are; sewage sludge and municipal solid waste like commercial and household waste materials.


4). Maritime Transport

Transport-related ocean pollution is important due to the major role played by maritime transport in world trade, energy resource-conveyance, military activities, tourism, scientific research, and other processes essential to global development.

Ships cause marine pollution by emitting light, noise and chemicals into the ocean, while being used for transport [4].

Maritime transport is linked to oil spill, toxin emission from batteries, marine littering, and other phenomena that can lead to degradation of the marine environment.

Aside ocean pollution, maritime transport is also linked to decrease in air quality and climate change [3].

Sources of Ocean Pollution: Maritime Transport (Credit: Alex Rio Brazil 2006)
Sources of Ocean Pollution: Maritime Transport (Credit: Alex Rio Brazil 2006)



5). Airborne Contaminant Outlets

Airborne contaminants (or rather, the sources of airborne contaminants) can be viewed as a source of ocean pollution.

These airborne contaminant outlets include ships, power plants, biorefineries, and manufacturing industries.

An example of an airborne contaminant that can cause ocean pollution is carbon dioxide (CO2) from electric generators, maritime vessels and biorefineries, among others. This greenhouse gas can cause acidification of oceans when absorbed in large quantity.

Airborne articulate matter can also cause ocean pollution, alongside volatile organic toxins.




Sources of marine pollution are;

1. Terrestrial Runoff

2. Energy Facilities

3. Municipal Waste Outlets

4. Maritime Transport

5. Airborne Contaminant Outlets




1). Fabricius, K. (2005). “Effects of terrestrial runoff on the ecology of corals and coral reefs: Review and synthesis.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 50(2):125-46. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2004.11.028. (Accessed 27 November 2022).

2). Ferronato, N.; Torretta, V. (2019). “Waste Mismanagement in Developing Countries: A Review of Global Issues.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 16:1060. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16061060. (Accessed 27 November 2022).

3). Han, C. (2010). “Strategies to Reduce Air Pollution in Shipping Industry.” Asian Journal of Shipping and Logistics 26(1):7–29. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/S2092-5212(10)80009-4. (Accessed 27 November 2022).

4). Walker, T. R.; Adebambo, O.; Del, M. C.; Feijoo, A.; Elhaimer, E.; Hossain, T.; Edwards, S. C. J.; Morrison, C. E.; Romo, J.; Sharma, N.; Taylor, S.; Zomorodi, S. (2018). “Environmental Effects of Marine Transportation.” Word Seas: An Environmental Evaluation (pp.505-530). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-805052-1.00030-9. (Accessed 27 November 2022).


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