Marine Pollution: Ocean and Marine life seeking our attention


To any effect there is a cause, this paper talks about the various causes of marine pollution and how does this leads to the reduction of oxygen globally. The discussion involved deep-sea mining and its impact, and proposed alternatives. To highlight the situation of India in this field the paper further talks about the view of policymakers. It especially highlights the contribution of India in preventing plastic pollution in oceans.  

The paper briefly provides an introduction to all the laws prevailing in India concerning the water/water bodies and marine life. Along with this, the paper highlights constitutional matters.       

Judiciary plays a vital role in guiding any matter especially for those matters which is a national as well as an international issue. Discussing the judicial pronouncement the paper at last shows the ways to control marine pollution. The author provides her views on the concerned topic and concludes the paper.


Marine Pollution is a combination of chemicals and trash most of which comes from land sources and is washed or blown into the ocean, this pollution results in damage to the environment, to the health of organisms, and to the economic structures worldwide.[1] Pollutants and the waste which is dumped into the ocean affects rigorously to the marine environment and marine life.

Oceans are considered as lungs of the Earth. Around 71% surface of the earth is covered by the ocean and it is the supporter of about 80% of life on earth. It posses 96% of the water of the earth. Oceans also produce more than half of the oxygen of the atmosphere and consumes 25% of the carbon emission of humans.

This pollution not only affects, one of the largest sources of oxygen but to a vital carbon emission consumer. United Nations strive to build greater literacy to discover marine scientific research, fisheries, labour at sea, migration by sea, and human trafficking as well as policy-making and management. It provides the guidelines for effective conservation and sustainable use of oceans and marine resources. The major issue is that we have little data and research on these issues.

“Major anthropogenic direct drivers of ecosystem degradation and destruction include habitat conversion to other forms of land use, overexploitation of resources and associated destructive harvesting practices, the spread of invasive alien species, pollution from domestic, agricultural, and industrial effluents, and climate change” the note said. According to the note, the coasts support approximately 30 percent of India’s 1.2 billion population.[2]

Major Causes of Marine Pollution

  • Plastic Pollution in Ocean: It has two effects first, direct ingestion, and second, exposure to marine organism with a chemical involved in plastic.
  • Oil Spill: When oil gets spills it forms a layer above water and prevents oxygen circulation for long period and it causes destruction to marine organisms.
  • Sewage: Wastewater flowing in sewage system consisting mainly of human toilet waste, bathing waste, animal waste. The untreated waste dumped into the ocean affects marine life.
  • Industrial Waste: Industries throw all their industrial waste into oceans which consist of harmful chemicals. This includes fertilizers and other farm products.
  • Ocean Mining: Sites drilling for silver, gold, copper, cobalt, and zinc create sulfide deposits up to three thousand and a half meters down into the ocean. 

Oxygen Loss in the Indian Coastline

In 2017, In the area in the western Arabian Sea, equal to the size of Mexico was covered with Green Swirls, this coastline extends to India. The green swirls were visible from the space. This area is considered a dead zone. It wasn’t seen normally but in the past two decades during winter it has become a regular phenomenon triggered by low-oxygen waters. The Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal – are losing more oxygen and endangering marine life. In the open ocean, 2% of oxygen has been lost over the past 50 years.[3]

There are two types of dead zones in the Arabian Sea and the  Bay Of Bengal, in open oceans, these zones are present naturally known as Oxygen Minimum Zones. This may range from the upper layer from 100m to 150m to the lower boundaries from 400m to 1000m. Natural Oxygen Minimum Zones expands in the long term both in terms of area and depth because of these green swirls.

Snowmelt in the Himalayas and rising ocean temperatures is the other culprit as oxygen is less soluble in warmer waters. A drop of 15% in a total global loss of oxygen in the upper 1000m of the ocean. The demand for oxygen increases in warm water due to the high metabolic rate of organisms.

Impact of Deep-Sea Mining

Deep sea mining means the grinding of the crust and transporting the ore back to the surface and blankets the water column with toxic materials. As the ocean floor has various valuable metals such as gold, silver, manganese, zinc, copper, cobalt, diamonds, and pearls, ocean mining is done. These valuable metals are found near the most productive areas in the ocean bed. The prolonged effect of the disturbance on the deep-sea environment is already been observed. This artificial disturbance is also created because of the device called Plough Harrow, which drags the tracks on the seafloor. A long-term impact study called the Mining Impact Project shows that these tracks are still visible after 26 years and both haven’t yet recovered.[4]

Alternatives of Mining

  • Recovering E-waste Minerals: E-waste is one of the most hazardous wastes. Recovering this waste will benefit the economy and society.
  • Urban Mining: It is 7 to 13 times less expensive than too conventional mining copper and gold respectively. This alternative has the ability to meet future demands too.

Working of Indian policy makers

The Indian policymakers have overlooked the important role played by the oceans despite the pressures on marine ecosystems important for slowing down climate change. Red Flags are raised by the experts and activists against India’s new coastal regulation zone notification. The notification regularizes illegal constructions in ecologically fragile coastal zones but the concern is that it also provides more opportunities for development projects by opening more coastal areas as this will affect the marine ecosystem.   Experts believe India needs to speak concerning this issue due to a lack of policies. For example, the unregulated coastal infrastructure near the coastal ecosystem can affect the communities living there directly, and all such consequences raised by Coastal Zone Notification 2018, will have irreversible impacts spilled onto our future generations. Experts’ major concern is the dilution of the No Development Zone (NDZ) from 200m to 50m as it isn’t just risk but suicidal as we are aware of the rising sea level, while the sea is coming towards land. It can be said that in such a futuristic situation it’s a sure recipe for future disasters. 

India’s contentious river linking projects may have an impact on marine ecology. The policymakers are interested in linking rivers and talk about the wasting of rainwater as it goes to the sea. Here they tend to ignore the vital role played by this runoff from land to sea and how important is that for the sea and the fishery. Knowingly or unknowingly, this will lead to disturbance in ocean balance as this rainwater runoff not only takes freshwater but also takes the nutrients from forest to sea which helps in sea productivity and assists fish spawning.   By 2050, it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. The degradation of fish stocks across the globe has already begun. By involving local communities in conservation and robust and skilled management of oceans to conserve these blue carbon ecosystems. This step has to be taken for the protection of marine areas.

Contribution of India in preventing plastic pollution in the ocean

According to the 2015 report of the United Nations Environment Program, Ocean Pollution in India was quite high. The report stated, India dumped 0.6 Tonnes of plastic into oceans annually and is ranked 12th amongst the top 20 nations responsible for polluting the ocean. Marine pollution became the critical pollution according to this report. Environmental Science and Technology, A  global Journal in its report of 2017 says, three of the world’s ten rivers that carry 90% of plastic to the oceans are Ganga, Indus, and Brahmaputra. 

Judicial Pronouncement:

M.C. Mehta Vs. Union Of India and Ors (AIR 1115,  1988 SCR (2)530):

Under this case, it was highlighted the pollution of the Ganga river by the hazardous industries located on its banks. The petitioner requested the court to restrain the respondents to release effluents into the Ganga river till they set up treatment plants for the treatment of toxic effluents.  It was this judgment where Justice ES Venkataramiah passed the order for the closure of several polluting tanneries near Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh. The court said that any tannery which cannot set up a primary treatment plant cannot be permitted to continue the existence.

S. Jagannath V. Union Of India & Ors ( December 11, 1966.)

Serious concern was expressed at the United Nations Conference on Human Environments in Stockholm (1972) when a noticeable increase in marine pollution and the consequential decline of marine resources was observed. This attracted global attention towards the urgent need of identifying the critically polluted areas of marine pollution. Coastal waters needed urgent remedial action for future protection.

In this conference, the resolution was passed unanimously that, littoral states should take swift actions at the national level for control of marine pollution and its assessment from all the sources. In the same conference, it was decided that the systematic monitoring system will be established by the states in order to regulate the efficacy of actions taken by the authorities to control marine pollution.

In the Stockholm Conference and in the convention on the Law Of Sea under which the boundaries of territorial sea was defined, on the basis of these two, a model of the comprehensive plan has been evolved under UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme). Keeping the national interest as a priority the government of India and the coastal states are under obligation to control marine pollution, protect the coastal environment and follow the international commitments ratified by them under these conferences.

Policy and Marine Debris Law

Marine Pollution is a distinct subject that has neither been dealt with in policy nor economics under Indian Law. In an international report of Marine Litter Legislation By United Nations Environment Programme in 2016 in tackling marine litter, the Indian policy has been restrictive in banning single-use plastic. This report mentions the efforts of the Indian government and the respective authorities only in the case of banning plastic bags. This plastic ban is only pertaining to plastic bags that too of a certain thickness.

In one of the United Nations report, there are several sections on developing policy to tackle marine litter. Banning of single-use plastic is under the subheading “Prohibiting & Disincentivizing use of Land-based Material Causing Marine Litter at the Retail Level”.Under this report, the sections state the restriction on waste disposal into the marine environment from landfill but concerning this section, Indian policy is yet to develop.

The introduction of ocean governance in India would be daunting at first sight but one of the reasons for the same is that there is no national-level framework or specific authority to deal with such issues of marine pollution or oceans in a holistic manner. The Ministry of Forest and Climate Change, The Ministry of Defence (the Indian Coast Guard and The Indian Navy), Ministry Of Environment, Ministry of Agriculture (Department of Fisheries), Ministry of Renewable Energy all are the stakeholders in the ocean governance.

It isn’t necessary that all such ministries interfere with one another but to solve this there has been a slew of Blue Economy programs in India over the past few years. However, the concept of Blue Economy is quite large within which the marine debris law is but a part and not one heralding the most attention either. Given the to strengthen the economic activity in the marine sectors of fisheries, offshore oil, deep-sea mining, and other specific issues are required to address marine debris in a pointed manner remain largely ignored. Last year there were talks concerning National Marine Litter Policy for India, as a part of the Blue Economy Programme it was to be funded by Norway but there is no information pertaining to it available in the public domain.

Developing a well sound plan for addressing the litter/pollution in India is stuck at the Problem Identification stage only and no further steps are taken in this direction. For the success of achieving a Blue Economy, we need an end-to-end plan which is sustainable and can act as long term solution, keeping our oceans healthy!. On top of it addressing marine pollution and stopping the same should be the high priority on India’s political and social agendas.

Indian Laws Protecting Ocean and Marine Pollution

Name Of The ActsDescription
Biological Diversity Act, 2002It preserves bio-diversity of the India by providing a mechanism for equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the biological resources.  
Indian Fisheries Act, 1987It is for the protection of fish against the explosive in inland waters and on the coast.  
Maritime Zones Act, 1976This act regulates fishing by foreign vessels in certain maritime zones of India and for matters connected.
Indian Ports Act, 1908This act was enacted to control the enactments made by the government concerning the ports and port charges.
Water (Prevention And Pollution Control) Act, 1974This act provides powers to the local authorities for the prevention, control, and abetment of water pollution and the maintenance or restoration of the wholesomeness of water. It is designed to assess pollution levels and punish the polluters[5].
Merchant Shipping Act, 1958The statute had been enacted to foster the development and ensure the efficient maintenance of an Indian mercantile marine ecosystem in a manner best suited to serve the national interests[6].
Major Port Trust Act, 1963An act to make provision for the constitution of port authorities for certain major ports in India and to vest the administration, control and management of such ports in such authorities and for matters connected therewith[7].
Coast Guard Act, 1978Act to provide for the constitution and regulation of an Armed Force of the Union for ensuring the security of the maritime zones of India with a view to the protection of maritime and other national. interests in such zones and for matters, connected therewith[8].

Constitutional Provisions

In India, we do have the Water Act, 1974 but the same is been supported by the Indian Constitution. Article 21 of the constitution states that ‘the right of enjoyment of pollution-free water and air for full enjoyment of life. Other provisional of the constitution are as follows:

  • Article 15: The article on anti-discrimination provides a safeguard on accessing wells, tanks and bathing Ghats, irrespective of your religion, caste, place of birth or, sex.
  • Article 37 and 39: Directive principles of state policy not only recognize equal access of the community to material resources but also encourage the State to ensure the distribution of these resources for the common good.
  • Article 51A:  There is a fundamental duty upon every citizen to protect and improve the natural environment, including forests, lakes, rivers and, wildlife.

Ways to control the Marine Pollution

  • Reduction In Energy Consumption.
  • Reduction in Online Food Ordering.
  • Avoid Single-Use Plastic.
  • Conservation Projects.
  • Education.


The author believes that although India has several laws for the protection of ocean and marine life the issues have already updated themselves so our laws also need too. However, UNCLOS proves to be beneficial for the coastal states but it imposes an obligation to use the same with rules mentioned in the convention which sets backs these states. It is not only the laws but the policymakers too have to update themselves as they are the one who makes decisions.

Marine Pollution will act as unavoidable if the human activist will continue against the law of the environment. It becomes important for all the states globally especially all the coastal states formulate national laws which will prevent marine pollution, undoubtedly keeping in mind their national interest. Until there is the absence of law in such a matter the judiciary has to take lead and resolve the issues pertaining to it. It is not only the authorities who have to prevent the pollution but the people at large have to work for the same by associating themselves either with any of the NGO or enroll themselves as a volunteer in any of the program run by the government.

The author has tried to draw the attention of readers towards this issue and hence, would like to conclude with:

 “No Water, No Life. No Blue, No Green”– Sylvia Earte.

This article is authored by Prathana Patel student at GLS University.

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