Eric Shearer, Kevin Hoyle, Tim Duggan, Mark Eaton, Jeff Klug, Steve Parry
Description of the Problem
Ocean dumping is the process of direct disposal by dumping by barge or ship of waste materials at a particular site at sea. This is a serious problem that has been going on for over 100 years. America's coastal waters have been used as dumping grounds for the nation's waste materials, including dredged materials like sewage sludge, solid waste, industrial and military wastes, radioactive wastes, and ocean-incinerated wastes, such that the ocean has earned the nickname, the "ultimate sink." The military is one of the country's biggest contributors (a 1990 Coast Guard study indicated that the U.S. Navy dumped 63,356 tons of garbage a year into U.S. waters.)
Ocean dumping contributes roughly 10% of the waste entering the ocean each year. These wastes may be extremely harmful and toxic to living organisms. The waste affects deep ocean habitats that are just as dense as land and shallow water communities. Another problem is that contaminated waste from pollution has been discovered at public beaches, and fish in the areas have been found to be infected by the pollutants. Dumping these materials can affect the chemistry of the ocean; some materials are highly toxic, or may contain pathogenic (disease-causing) microorganisms, pesticides, or heavy metals such as lead, copper, cadmium, chromium, and zinc. The dumping of this waste lowers the level of dissolved oxygen, and has caused the reduction of crustacean populations (food for commercially valuable fish). The fish may have abnormal chromosomes that result from harmful mutations after exposure to the toxic materials. Fish may ingest abnormal items from dumped waste, and a number of fish diseases have been identified in affected marine areas, including the Black Gill disease, which causes the fish's gills to turn abnormally dark and have reduced respiratory function. The fish may also "bioaccumulate" the toxins, for example, fish with increased levels of chromium, lead and nickel.
In the mid-Atlantic Ocean recent studies showed 42 million tons of wet sewage sludge were dumped into the ocean between 1986 and 1992. This area is known for its biodiversity, for example, off the ast of New Jersey and Delaware 798 different species and 171 different families were found at 2,100 meters. Further south the number of species doubled. The researchers generalized that there were nearly 10 million different species for every square kilometer of sea floor beneath the depths greater than 1,000 meters.
Some solutions to ocean dumping include the fining of persons involved in any illegal dumping. In 1988, Congress passed the Ocean Dumping Act, which prohibits all dumping of industrial waste, and prevents any person without a permit from dumping any form of waste into the ocean. There are precise guidelines determining who may be granted a permit; this prohibits just anyone from being able to dump waste indiscrinately. The Act also required that NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) would receive funding to research the effects of ocan dumping and other man-induced changes. International attention to the problems of ocean dumping has increased. In 1984 the London Dumping Convention was held, resulting in legislation and regulation of ocean dumping of industrial wastes
One new method is called Deep Ocean Disposal, involving a management scheme
where various forms of waste are dumped into non-coastal waters (914 meters
off the coast). This is envisioned as a viable form of disposal because
of the potential for diluting the waste as it sinks to the sediments, and
would result in a greater distance from human contact. Not all scientists
endorse this idea, citing the effects on seafloor biodiversity, technical
difficulties, and limited regulatory capability.
Other references will be added for this page.
Gaytha A. Langlois, Ph.D., 2002
Bryant College, Smithfield, RI 02917
Last Updated: October 2002