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Special Collection

Human Health and Ocean Pollution

Collection launched: 03 Dec 2020

Ocean pollution is widespread, worsening, and poorly controlled. It is a complex mixture of toxic metals, plastics, manufactured chemicals, petroleum, urban and industrial wastes, pesticides, fertilizers, pharmaceutical chemicals, agricultural runoff, and sewage. More than 80% arises from land-based sources.

Ocean pollution has multiple impacts on marine ecosystems. Petroleum-based pollutants reduce photosynthesis in oxygen-producing marine microorganisms. Carbon dioxide absorption causes ocean acidification. Plastic pollution threatens marine mammals, fish and seabirds, and breaks down into microplastic and nanoplastic particles that can enter the tissues of marine organisms and be consumed by humans.

Methylmercury and PCB pollution in seafood can damage children’s developing brains. Adult exposures to methylmercury increase risks for cardiovascular disease and dementia. Manufactured chemicals in seafood – phthalates, bisphenol A, flame retardants, and perfluorinated chemicals - can disrupt endocrine signalling, reduce male fertility, damage and increase risk of cancer. Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) produce potent toxins that accumulate in fish and shellfish and cause severe neurological impairment and rapid death.

Ocean pollution can be prevented. Control requires deploying data-driven strategies based on law, policy, technology, and enforcement. Prevention of ocean pollution boosts economies, increases tourism, helps restore fisheries, and improves human health and well-being.

Guest Editor: Keith Martin, MD. PC