The importance of the Oceans to our planet and understanding the negative effects of Ocean Pollution

Understanding oceans' significance & negative impacts of pollution.

Whether you live near an ocean or not, you may not realize it but you benefit from their positive contributions to our global ecosystems every second of every day.

Our oceans are vital to life on this planet, yet they’re suffering from the effects of pollution at an alarming rate[1]  and it’s in all of our best interests to keep them healthy as we work to try to reverse the damage we’ve inflicted on them, as quickly as possible. (If the global pandemic of ocean pollution persists on its current trajectory there will be more pollution in the ocean than fish by 2050!)

When the health of our oceans suffer, so too does the health of our entire ecosystem. But in order to understand how we can prevent ocean pollution and preserve our planet, we have to first understand what ocean pollution is, how it occurs, and its devastating effects.

The importance of Our Oceans

A Breath of Fresh Air

We often think of the ocean as a source of water, but the ocean is also responsible for producing about 70% of the world’s oxygen, thanks to marine plants like phytoplankton, kelp, and algal plankton which produce oxygen through photosynthesis.

Prochlorococcus, a type of phytoplankton, is so microscopic that millions of it can fit in a drop of water, yet it may be the most abundant photosynthetic organism on the planet is estimated to produce the oxygen for one in every five breaths we take.[2]

Home Sweet Home

Beneath the surface of our oceans lives the largest, most diverse habitat on earth. In fact, scientists estimate that more than a million species of animals and marine life call the ocean home sweet home.[3]

A Source of Food

Aside from being a source of food for millions of marine species, the ocean has also provided sustenance for billions of humans for thousands of years. In fact, fisheries today provide about 16% of the world's total protein.[4]

A Hidden World of Possibility

With ocean water covering more than half of the earth’s surface, scientists have turned to the unexplored depths of this mysterious world to find new sources of natural medicine. Pharmacology research of marine organisms is growing, as aquatic organisms are screened for antibacterial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, neuroprotective, and antimalarial properties.

In fact, ingredients derived from the ocean have been used to help fight cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer's disease.[5]

A Stable Employer

From food and medicine to recreational activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving, the ocean provides sources of employment for millions of people around the world. In the U.S. alone, ocean-dependent businesses employ roughly 3 million people.[6]

A World-Wide Thermostat

The ocean’s surface absorbs about half of the sun’s heat.[7] In doing so, the ocean distributes the heat around the world, driving global weather patterns and regulating temperatures on land. In fact, oceans have played a vital role in slowing the effects of climate change by absorbing half of the carbon dioxide that enters our atmosphere.

Understanding Ocean Pollution

Marine pollution refers to the damaging effects that chemicals, trash, waste, and other particles have when they enter the ocean.

There are two main types of marine pollution:

  • Trash – This type of pollution consists of manufactured products such as cigarette butts, food wrappers and fishing gear.
  • Chemicals – Chemical pollution is caused by common man-made pollutants, such as pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, sewage and oil.

Causes of Ocean Pollution

Due to the fact that ocean pollution can take several forms, the causes of ocean pollution can likewise vary. Depending on the type of ocean pollution, causes can include marine litter, industrial waste, agricultural runoff, oil spills and the fishing industry.

One of the most significant contributors to ocean pollution is waste caused by litter and mismanaged waste facilities. An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean each year, adding to the 150 million metric tons of plastic that are currently polluting our oceans.[8] In some of the most polluted areas of the ocean, the mass of plastic outnumbers the mass of plankton.[9]

Where is all this plastic waste coming from?

More than 80% of ocean plastics come from land-based sources.[10] This includes items such as plastic cups, straws, bottles and utensils. When this plastic litter isn’t properly recycled, or when it ends up in mismanaged recycling facilities, they run the risk of being transported to our oceans by tides, sewage systems, rivers, floods or other inclement weather and animals.

Why We Need to Care About Ocean Pollution 

With the many vital roles our oceans play, increases in marine pollution will have equally increased negative effects on our planet. In fact, the impact of marine plastic pollution can already be seen around the world.

Here are 6 of the major effects that ocean pollution has on the environment, marine species and human life.

#1 Increasing Ocean Acidification

Carbon emissions that result from animal agriculture, deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels affect the pH balance of ocean water. This leads to ocean acidification, which reduces the ocean’s levels of calcium carbonate—an essential mineral that marine organisms like coral, plankton, clams and oysters depend on for survival.

Due to increasing levels of carbon emissions, oceans are acidifying faster than they have in 300 million years.[11]

#2 Decreasing Levels of Oxygen

When plastic waste in the ocean degrades, it breaks down into microplastics that contain toxins like phthalates and flame retardants. When oxygen-producing organisms within the ocean ingest these microplastics, their ability to photosynthesize efficiently declines. This means they’re unable to produce as much oxygen for the planet.

#3 Endangering Marine Wildlife

Fish and other marine wildlife can mistake plastic waste for food, accidentally ingesting it, causing them harm. In fact, plastic has been found in more than 60% of all seabirds and in 100% of sea turtle species.[12] When marine animals ingest plastics, they may experience:

  • Decreased nutritional intake, which affects their overall health
  • Internal injuries from sharp pieces of plastic
  • Starvation as their stomachs become filled with indigestible plastic debris

Even if marine organisms and wildlife don’t directly ingest plastic waste, they may become entangled in plastic bags or soda rings, which can lead to injury or suffocation.

#4 Interfering with Marine Communication

Marine mammals like as dolphins and whales rely on communication through sound waves to find food, navigate the oceans and communicate. However, plastic debris creates noise pollution that interrupts these sound waves, making it difficult for these species to interact with each other and to survive.

#5 Disrupting Coastal Economies

Many coastal economies rely on their fishing industries but with increasing ocean acidification, shellfish and other marine populations are declining, leaving fisheries with less product to sell, and in turn, less profit.

Additionally, when ocean-bound plastics litter coastlines of popular vacation destinations, tourists are less likely to visit, causing significant loss to tourism-related economies.

#6 Increasing Human Health Risks

When fish and other marine wildlife ingest plastic waste that they mistake for food, they likewise ingest the toxic chemicals found within these plastics. These can make their way into marine animals regardless of whether or not plastic is ingested because microplastics within the water can permeate animal tissue. That means when we eat seafood, we’re likely ingesting these toxic chemicals as well, which can have drastic effects on human health[13] like nervous system damage, reduced male fertility and disrupted hormone levels. 

How We Can Help Stop Ocean Pollution

Ocean pollution creates a ripple effect that impacts all life on our planet, from the single-cell microorganism to the massive blue whale. To stop ocean pollution, we need solutions that likewise have overarching effects on a global scale. That starts with individual action.

To help prevent ocean pollution and protect our planet and its inhabitants for generations to come, consider implementing the following eco-friendly practices:

  • Adhere to proper recycling guidelinesRecycling requirements and guidelines differ based on region. To ensure your plastics are recycled properly, contact your local recycling facility to ask about their specific recycling rules, or use a trusted resource like to find more information.
  • Contribute to ocean-bound collection and recycling initiatives – Coastal community collection and recycling initiatives not only reduce ocean plastic, but they also increase employment opportunities and boost local economies.
  • Support sustainable brands that utilize ocean-bound plastics – When brands like ZenWTR use recycled ocean-bound plastics to create their products, they prevent plastic waste from polluting our oceans and reduce their carbon emissions. Plus, by choosing these brands over their competition, you help raise the demand for products made from recycled, ocean-bound plastics, rather than virgin plastics. You can find a list of some of our favorites here!

Help Prevent Ocean Pollution with ZenWTR

Our oceans are essential to sustaining life. They provide shelter, food, oxygen, and medicine. They contain a world of possibility, and a lifetime of unforgettable experiences. It’s time we come together to give back to this invaluable resource that has given us so much.

That’s why at ZenWTR, we’ve made it our mission to rescue 50 million pounds of ocean-bound plastic by 2025 by using 100% recycled, ocean-bound plastic for our water bottles. In fact, with every ZenWTR you purchase, you prevent up to 5 plastic bottles from polluting our oceans. Plus, you hydrate your body with ultra-pure, vapor distilled water. For a healthier planet, and a healthier you, choose ZenWTR.

Shop now and help make a wave of change! 


NRDC. Ocean Pollution: The Dirty Facts. 

National Ocean Service. How much oxygen comes from the ocean?

Marine Bio. Ocean Resources.

World Wildlife. Ocean Habitat. 

National Ocean Service. Why should we care about the ocean? .

Ocean Conservancy. The Problem with Plastics.

EPA. Sources of Aquatic Trash.

Planet Aid. How Ocean Pollution Affects Humans

National Geographic. Plastic trash flowing into the seas will nearly triple by 2040 without drastic action. 


NIH. Human Health and Ocean Pollution.

[1] NRDC. Ocean Pollution: The Dirty Facts.

[2] National Grographic:

[3] National Geographic. Ocean Habitat.

[4] Marine Bio. Ocean Resources.,not%20always%20used%20for%20food.

[5] National Ocean Service. Why should we care about the ocean?,our%20climate%20and%20weather%20patterns.

[6] National Ocean Service. Why should we care about the ocean?,our%20climate%20and%20weather%20patterns.

[7] World Wildlife. Ocean Habitat.

[8] Ocean Conservancy. The Problem with Plastics.,currently%20circulate%20our%20marine%20environments.

[9] Planet Aid. How Ocean Pollution Affects Humans.

[10] EPA. Sources of Aquatic Trash.,beaches%20during%20cleanups%20and%20surveys.

[11] NRDC. Ocean Pollution: The Dirty Facts.

[12] Ocean Conservancy. The Problem with Plastics.,currently%20circulate%20our%20marine%20environments.

[13] NIH. Human Health and Ocean Pollution.