Sample Geography Research Paper on Threats to the World’s Oceans

Threats to the World’s Oceans


The globe’s oceans are today faced with a record loss of species. The seas continue to degenerate much faster than had been predicted due to the cumulative effects of several factors ranging from global warming to overfishing. These factors currently threaten the ocean environment with a calamity never witnessed before in human history. The essay examines the current major threats to the world’s oceans and why they are happening in order to properly understand the implications of human actions to oceans.

Untannable Fishing

Critical fish stocks as well as a large number of other important marine life are significantly threatened by overfishing. The world’s oceans are facing unprecedented plunder through large-scale overfishing and needless killing of marine life. Specifically, the world`s shipping fleet is estimated to be 2-3 times bigger than what the oceans can accommodate sustainably. Accordingly, this implies that the global population consumes more fish from the ocean that cannot be replaced by the remaining stock. Consequently, about 53% of the globe’s fisheries have been exploited completely. An additional 32% have been depleted, overexploited, or are recovering after depletion (FAO, 2010). Many of the leading marine fisheries representing about 30% of total fish captured are either overexploited or fully exploited, whereby several critical fish populations have reduced to the extent that their survival is now at risk (Coll, Libralato, Tudela, Palomera, & Pranovi, 2008). Furthermore, during fishing, other marine species are affected as well. Due to unlawful fishing techniques, each year, billions of ocean species and unwanted fish die.

Overfishing occurs due to several reasons. The first reason is the lack of proper management of fisheries. Government regulations, management oversight, and tracking of fishing activities on the seas have for ages been missing in the industry. Although various countries have made significant milestones in curbing overfishing, there is still more to be done. Secondly, pirate fishermen who disrespect fishing agreements and laws contribute to the alarming decline of fish. The pirate fishermen engage in illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing yet they still find market for their catch. Thirdly, another significant contributor to the current trends encompasses unfair fishing partnership agreements between developed and developing economies (Wilberg & Miller, 2007). Industrialized economies and trading blocs such as the European Union often enter into fishing agreements with developing countries giving the developed countries’ fleets fishing rights in developing countries. Once the recipient government is paid, these fleets engage in overfishing thereby damaging the ecosystem, which leads to the loss of biodiversity.

Climate Change

Currently, the ocean environment is witnessing the consequences of climate change. The present rise in world temperatures of 0.7°C has caused significant disruptions to the life in the oceans, both in the poles and the tropics. Marine life affected by the change includes plankton which is the foundation of marine food chains such as seabirds, seals, corals, penguins, polar bear, and sea lions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, by the end of the century, temperatures would rise further to between 1.4°C and 5.8°C (Thorner, Kumar, & Smith, 2014). Therefore, climate change is likely to be the last blow for many ocean species that are already being stressed by habitat loss and overfishing. The major effects of global warming on the world`s oceans include coral bleaching, which has led to starvation, shrinkage, and death of coral reefs. Similarly, due to ocean warming, fish species have been forced to migrate into deeper water or to the poles, which has disrupted fisheries across the globe. Furthermore, the globe has witnessed a rise in sea levels and altered behavior of marine species.

Considerably, climate change is a consequence of human factors. Industrialized economies currently burn more fossil fuels, use more energy, and generate more greenhouse gases compared to developing economies. Similarly, developing economies seek to catch up with industrialized countries, whereby they have to burn more fuel and more energy. The various human factors that contribute to climate change are either linked to economic development or population growth. These include burning of fossil fuels for industry, transport, and power generation, all of which produce carbon dioxide. Similarly, global deforestation that involves burning of rainforests also generates carbon dioxide. Other human activities that have led to climate change include traffic pollution, testing of atomic bombs, increased industrialization, and methane generated from rice plantations.

Ocean Pollution

A significant volume of waste matter finds its way into the world’s oceans annually. More than 80% of ocean pollution originates from human activities ashore (WWF Global, 2017). The waste produced on land such as pesticides and plastic bags ultimately reach the oceans, either due to dumping or run-offs via rivers and drains. Some of the waste that finds its way to the oceans includes oil spills which cause severe damage to the marine life. A higher percentage of the oil in the oceans is not through direct oil spills but rather from cities and industries. Another source of ocean pollution includes fertilizers, which runoff from lawns and farms, which is a major problem in coastal areas (WWF Global, 2017). These fertilizers create extra nutrients that cause algal blooms to thrive and suffocate other marine species. Additionally, solid garbage has also found its way into the seas in the form of balloons, plastic bags, shoes, and glass bottles (Lebreton, Greer, & Borrero, 2012). Marine animals often mistake these wastes for food leading to complications such as blockage of stomachs and air passages for many ocean species including seals and whales.

In many parts of the globe, under-treated and untreated sewage finds its way into the oceans. For instance, approximately 80% of the sewage released into the Mediterranean Sea is not treated (WWF Global, 2017). Moreover, today nearly all marine animals from the smallest plankton to the whales have been poisoned by man-made chemicals. Notably, chemicals enter the seas through dumping. Before the 1970s, oceans were considered an appropriate dumping ground for waste, including pesticides and radioactive waste generated ashore (WWF Global, 2017). Although dumping of chemical waste in oceans was banned in 1972, the problem still persists.

Ocean Shipping

The world’s oceans are used for shipping cargo from one part of the globe to another, whereby about 90% of all products traded between countries are transported by ships. However, poor shipping practices and ships that are below standards have resulted in significant marine damage and pollution. The damage to the seas is caused by the chemicals and oils released from the ships, either accidentally through spills or deliberately through operational discharges. Additionally, activities such as dumping of waste (sewage and garbage), emission of nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, and Sulphur dioxide also damage and pollute the marine environment (Ceyhun, 2014). Moreover, shipping causes physical and other damage to the oceans through wave and noise disturbances, dropping of anchors, and striking of marine numbers.

The damage and threats caused by shipping are not evenly distributed across the oceans, but are more concentrated in busy ports and shipping lanes. As shipping lanes record increased traffic and congestion, the volume of pollution that the ships generate increases parallel to the accidents and spills. Mudflats, seagrass meadows, and wetlands that are now regarded as critical elements of a nation’s natural environment are usually positioned close to or in seaport locations. Shipping activities in the oceans has adversely affected the world`s oceans. This is primarily due to the fact that existing international laws have limited the ability of countries with ocean borders to formulate and implement their own laws to regulate foreign ships in their territorial waters (Ceyhun, 2014). Countries are thus required to use the international conventions, which are often reactive and favor shipping industry players. For instance, it took decades for single-hulled tankers to be phased out despite many accidents involving tankers in the oceans.


The paper has identified current threats to the world’s oceans. These include unsustainable fishing, climate change, pollution, and ocean shipping. Much of the world’s fish stock is either overfished or overexploited. Additionally, the world’s oceans continue to serve as highways for ships transporting all types of products. Moreover, garbage, untreated sewage, fertilizer, plastics, industrial chemicals, and pesticides find their way into the oceans thereby negatively affecting the marine food chain. All these factors are a major threat to ocean life and habitat.


Ceyhun, G.C. (2014). The impact of shipping accidents on marine environment: a study of Turkish seas. European Scientific Journal, 10(33), pp. 1857-7881.

Coll, M., Libralato, S., Tudela, S., Palomera, I., & Pranovi, F. (2008). Ecosystem overfishing in the ocean. Plos ONE, 3(12), e3881.

FAO, F. (2010). The State of world fisheries and aquaculture – 2010 (SOFIA).

Lebreton, L., Greer, S., & Borrero, J. (2012). Numerical modelling of floating debris in the world’s oceans. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 64(3), 653-661.

Thorner, J., Kumar, L., & Smith, S. (2014). Impacts of climate-change-driven sea level rise on intertidal rocky reef habitats will be variable and site specific. Plos ONE, 9(1), e86130.

Wilberg, M., & Miller, T. (2007). Comment on “Impacts of biodiversity loss on ocean ecosystem services”. Science, 316(5829), pp.1285b-1285b.

WWF Global. (2017). Marine problems: Pollution. Retrieved from