As our global village becomes more economically and socially intertwined, it is important to understand that the vast majority of intercontinental trade is conducted via our oceans by some 50,000 merchant ships. Like all modes of transportation powered by fossil fuels, ships produce carbon dioxide emissions that significantly contribute to global climate change and ocean acidification. More than three percent of carbon dioxide in our biosphere can be attributed to the unregulated emissions of ocean-going ships.
In addition to a steady spew of carbon dioxide in form of engine exhaust, ocean vessels also release a handful of other pollutants that damage our oceans. Cruise ships dump solid waste and emit toxic chemicals used for onsite dry cleaning, painting and other activities; tankers and other ships release oil, oily residue, and bilge water, a mix of residual fluids that collects inside the bottom of a ship's hull and often contains a toxic profusion of the various wastes and chemicals from within the ship.
Today's ships' increased container capacities significantly raise the potential extent of damage to our oceans due to larger spills and higher CO2 emissions resulting from increased fuel usage. Spills from shipwrecks are of particular concern in Arctic waters, where extreme conditions make cleaning up oil and rescuing distressed vessels virtually impossible. Increased traffic in the region, made possible by decreasing sea ice, compounds problem even further, effectively illustrating the troublingly self-perpetuating nature of global climate change. This trend must be reversed before disastrous shipping spills such as those of the Exxon Valdez and the Cosco Busan are eclipsed both in actual size and magnitude of negative environmental impact.
Believe it or not, noise pollution is also a major threat to ocean life. There are several types of marine species that depend on hearing to communicate, navigate, and find food. Incessant noise caused by shipping essentially jams their radar, greatly hindering their ability to function or even survive.
Also, swirling patches of garbage hundreds of miles wide and comprised mostly of plastic, have been detected in both of our major oceans. Seabirds and mammals are dying of starvation and dehydration from inadvertently eating plastic while fish are ingesting toxins at such a rate that soon they will no longer be safe to eat. It is estimated that plastic outnumbers living things in our oceans by a ratio of 6:1 (Moore, C.J., S.L. Moore, M.K. Leecaster and S. B Weinberg, A Comparison of Plastic and Plankton in the North Pacific central gyre. Marine Pollution Bulletin 42:1297-1300)
Through direct advocacy, campaigning, and media and policy work, Pacific Environment works to strengthen preventative and protective policies at the regional, national, and international levels that support our oceans and marine ecosystems.