Facts and figures on marine pollution

  • Land-based sources (such as agricultural run-off, discharge of nutrients and pesticides and untreated sewage including plastics) account for approximately 80% of marine pollution, globally.
  • Agricultural practices, coastal tourism, port and harbour developments, damming of rivers, urban development and construction, mining, fisheries, aquaculture, and manufacturing, among others, are all sources of marine pollution threatening coastal and marine habitats.
  • Excessive nutrients from sewage outfalls and agricultural runoff have contributed to the number of low oxygen (hypoxic) areas known as dead zones, where most marine life cannot survive, resulting in the collapse of some ecosystems.
  • There are now close to 500 dead zones covering more than 245,000 km² globally, equivalent to the surface of the United Kingdom.
  • Over 220 million tons of plastic are produced each year.
  • Plastics can contribute to reduce our carbon footprint. They provide improved insulation, lighter packaging, are found in phones, computers, medical devices, etc. but appropriate disposal is often not addressed.
  • Seven of the EU Member States plus Norway and Switzerland recover more than 80% of their used plastics. These countries adopt an integrated waste and resource management strategy to address each waste stream with the best options. However, waste and disposal remain an issue in most of the world.
  • The United Nations Environment Programme estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.
  • Once discarded, plastics are weathered and eroded into very small fragments known as micro-plastics. These together with plastic pellets are already found in most beaches around the world.
  • Plastic debris causes the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals.
  • Plastic materials and other litter can become concentrated in certain areas called gyres as a result of marine pollution gathered by oceanic currents. There are now 5 gyres in our ocean.
  • The North Pacific Gyre, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, occupies a relatively stationary area that is twice the size of Texas. Waste material from across the North Pacific Ocean, including coastal waters off North America and Japan, are drawn together.
  • The Blueprint for ocean and coastal sustainability includes proposals to green the nutrient economy and reduce ocean hypoxia.
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