I don’t ‘ship’ shipping…


Shipping is a huge industry as it’s hugely important for trade between countries – over 90% of global trade is done by cargo ships. With around 50,000 merchant ships it’s no surprise there is an issue with them causing marine pollution issues. If you think that one massive container ship is equal to 50 million cars then you should be able to imagine the huge amount of fumes and other pollutants it must be emitting to the atmosphere and our oceans!

How the ships release pollution:

  • Release of oil and chemicals – ships obviously need oil/petrol to run and many ships also carry oil around as their cargo; this can then be released into the ocean by accidental spills and operational discharges.
  • Release of biocides – antifouling paints (which are used on ship hulls to prevent the build-up of barnacles, algae, sponges, molluscs etc.) generally contain toxic substances; a big concern is tributyltin (TBT) which has been shown to have a damaging effect on the endocrine system – being most problematic in molluscs.
  • Air pollution – the fuel used for ships is basically waste oil, it is very thick and contains a lot of sulfur. Shipping is by far the largest transport polluter of sulfur oxides in world, releasing 20 million tons annually.
  • Waste disposal – garbage and sewage from the ships is often just dumped in the sea; this contributes to the plastic pollution of the oceans as well as eutrophication.
  • Transfer of invasive species – as ships are travelling all over the world they can unintentionally pick up species from one place and carry them to another (generally on their hull or in their ballast water). When new species are introduced to a new environment they can sometimes have a detriment effect and become a pest.
  • Physical damage – from dropping of anchors, dredging, noise and wave disturbance and even the hitting of whales and other marine mammals


The distribution of shipping pollution is due to the shipping routes – more damage is detectable in shipping lanes and ports as more ship congestion is found in these places.

 Map of the worlds shipping lanes showing the traffic density:


Image: Fred Pierce


So what can be done to reduce the pollution caused by shipping?

Because the shipping industry is so huge and so important for the economy it’s not really something that can be stopped, however measures can be taken to make sure that it is more environmentally friendly. However, as members of the general public all we can really do is make more people aware of the damage that is currently being caused and thus help to persuade large organisations to make a change to the legislation.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is basically the rules that all ships on the sea have to apply to:


The International Marine Organisation (IMO) is the organisation responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. You can check out their website for more details on what they do: www.imo.org

Beth x



Gizmag.com, (2016). Big polluters: one massive container ship equals 50 million cars. [online] Available at: http://www.gizmag.com/shipping-pollution/11526/ [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

MNN – Mother Nature Network, (2016). Eniram outsmarts waves to reduce cargo emissions. [online] Available at: http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/blogs/eniram-outsmarts-waves-to-reduce-cargo-emissions [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Network, M. (2011). 8 Ways in which Cruise Ships Can Cause Marine Pollution. [online] Marine Insight. Available at: http://www.marineinsight.com/environment/8-ways-in-which-cruise-ships-can-cause-marine-pollution/ [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Omae, I. (2003). Organotin Antifouling Paints and Their Alternatives. ChemInform, 34(14).

OSPAR Commission, (2010). Releases of anti-fouling chemicals. Assessment of the impact of shipping on the marine environement. [online] Available at: http://qsr2010.ospar.org/media/assessments/p00440_supplements/p00440_suppl_5_release_of_anti-fouling_chemicals.pdf [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Wwf.panda.org, (2016). Marine problems: Shipping. [online] Available at: http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/blue_planet/problems/shipping/ [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].

Yellow fishes:

Have you ever seen a yellow fish painted next to a drain cover? If so it’s likely a part of the yellow fish campaign. The yellow fish campaign is run in Britain, and involves stencilling a yellow fish symbol next to drains to remind people that any waste entering them may go directly to the nearest open water – causing pollution and killing wildlife.

But we don’t put our rubbish down drains, do we? Well, we do. Litter is easily carried in water or by the wind, any dropped litter can so easily end up down a drain, and where it goes from there so unknown to us. It may go to a treatment plant, or into our waters. When in the water we really have no control over what happens next, oil is one of the biggest issues when in drain water, it doesn’t mix with water, and could potentially cause the suffocation of an entire lake. One litre of oil can pollute one million litres of drinking water⁴, a lot right? So remember only water down the drain. Oil can be recycled at local recycling centres, where it’s possibly used to make biofuel.

It’s believed that 10 % of all plastic debris ends up in the oceans¹, we might try to avoid directly placing debris in our water but, there are lots of drains that lead to water. That’s where the yellow fish campaign comes it, it raises awareness of drains which will go straight into the water works untreated. Some places the yellow fish will also tell you where they enter: beach, river, stream, lake, estuary etc. Marine litter is easily carried to the sea by the rivers².

So what kind of litter is found in these drains, in a survey it was found that 32% were tobacco products, 20% were plastic, 16% confectionary products, 16% paper, 9% glass, 4% metal, and 3% unclassified³. But Tobacco products aren’t that bad are they? 4.5 trillion cigarette butts enter the environment every year. Sadly, they will become more toxic as the filter will collect different chemicals found in the water, before some unsuspecting animal or child eats them by mistake.

But the yellow fish campaign is here to change that. It’s raising awareness of what we are doing to our waters, and it’s so simple to get involved!

As the campaign is run completely by volunteers you can do the project whenever you like. All you need to do is stencil a yellow fish next to surface water drains. To do this you do require the permission of the owner of the drain, on public land this will be your local highways department. You could also create leaflets to spread the word to your wider community.

Businesses can get involved too! Why not have your shop or development, more environmentally friendly and educate people too. Improve your environment to improve your profit, sounds good to me for just adding a simple yellow fish.


For more information about how to get involved in England click here.


Lauren x



  1. Thompson RC, Olsen Y, Mitchell RP, Davis A, Rowland SJ, John AW, McGonigle D, Russell AE (2004). Lost at sea: where is all the plastic? Science, 304, 838.
  2. Sadri, SS, & Thompson, RC (2014) On the quantity and composition of floating plastic debris entering and leaving the Tamar Estuary, Southwest England. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 81, 55–60.
  3. KAB, (2009) National Visible Litter Survey and Litter Cost Study. Keep America Beautiful, Inc. <www.kab.org/site/DocServer/Final_KAB_Report_9-18-09.pdf> accessed: 20/02/16
  4. Ashworth M, (2012) Yellow fish guidance manual [manual obtained in Exeter branch] 19/02/16

Deepwater Horizon Oil spill, 6 years on:

The largest accidental marine oil spill in history. Well, that could mean anything right? It doesn’t have to mean it was huge. But it was. On April  20th 2010 an estimated 780,000 m³ of crude oil was released into the Gulf of Mexico. An explosion caused a well leak in the drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon. The accident took place only 66kms off the American coast. So what are the affects still taking place nearly six years on?

We all remember the photos and videos of the oil being removed or washing up on the shore, but that doesn’t mean the oil is gone. There are significant hydrocarbon deposits on the seafloor in the Desoto Canyon region, over to the east of where the well leaked¹. Only around 25% of the oil was actually removed, the rest is still out there somewhere. Some of that oil can become trapped during the formation of marine snow, causing mass deposits of oil at depth, where they can have a catastrophic effect on benthic (bottom feeding) species.

marine snow

Image credit:http://phys.org/news/2013-07-marine-scientists-explore-biodiversity-ecosystems.html

Even though the gushing well was capped in July 2010, oil is still washing up on shores, which might cause long-term damages to people living in the area.

Marine oil-Snow Sedimentation and Flocculent Accumulation (MOSSFA) due to the oil spill is still impacting marine ecosystems². It’s believed that around 70-90% of marine snow particles that sink from the surface water are then ingested by mesopelagic (depth of 200 to 1000 metres) zooplankton or used by bacteria¹. These are then eaten by other marine species before the oil then reaches the top of the food chain.

16,000 total miles of coastline have been affected, including the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

A study was done in Barataria Bay in 2011, which is in a heavily-oiled area of the Louisiana coastline. Of all the dolphins tests nearly half of them were extremely ill; 17% not expected to survive³. Not only that but since the spill, every year, around 500 sea turtles have been found stranded, sadly, most of them were the much endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles³. When the disaster happened it was the peak breeding season for lots of species of fish and wildlife. The toxins in the oil could have hit eggs and the larval organisms straight away, destroying those age classes, or causing mutations.  But it’s only the fish right? They can just breed? No, fish were continued to be fished from the water and many Louisiana fisherman became ill after the spill, and most blame it on the oil in the waters, not only did they become sick they predict that it will take seven years before they can start shrimping again⁴.

For more information about the oil spill and the affects that were seen last year, check out this video:


Do we really need to keep risking our oceans for a fuel that we are quickly running out of when there are so many alternatives? The extent of the 2010 disaster is still widely unknown, as six years isn’t a long enough time in the science community for research to produce a conclusive answer. I personally think we need to push for a change to more renewable energy sources. Not just for our health but for the planet.

Lauren x


  1. Daly KL, Passow U, Chanton J, Hollander D (2016) Assessing the impacts of oil-associated marine snow formation and sedimentation during and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Anthropocene, ISSN 2213-3054, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ancene.2016.01.006.
  2. Schwing PT, Romero IC, Brooks GR, Hastings DW, Larson RA, Hollander DJ (2015) A Decline in Benthic Foraminifera following the Deepwater Horizon Event in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0128505. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0120565
  3. National Wildlife Federation (2015) How Does the BP Oil Spill Impact Wildlife and Habitat? nwf.org/What-We-Do/Protect-Habitat/Gulf-Restoration/Oil-Spill/Effects-on-Wildlife.aspx 18/02/16
  4. Buczynski B (2010) Gulf Oil Spill: 10 Horrifying Facts You Never Wanted To Know. care2.com/causes/10-most-horrifying-facts-about-the-gulf-oill-spill.html 19/02/16
  5. Feature image

Spills spoil seas:

400+ million gallons spill into oceans every year…

Everyone has seen the devastating pictures of sea birds drowned in oil, the black ocean waters and the thick, sludge covered beaches.

The effects on marine organisms can be devastating; as the oil floats on top of the water sea birds and marine mammals, such as otters, are most effected. The oil covers the birds bodies, coating the feathers thus preventing flight and destroying their natural waterproofing – this means the birds are left with no form of insulation or ability to escape from the waters, so are vulnerable to hypothermia. The same goes for otters and seals, their isulation is affected by the oil and they cannot keep themsleves warm. Dolphins and whales are badly effected when they come to the surface and oil gets into their blowholes, this can block their resporitory systems and make it hard to breathe.

As well as affecting animals at the surface, some of the oil can sink down into the ocean and contaminate the water which has a toxic effect on fish and fish larvae as they swallow the oil droplets in the water. This can in the long run cause mutations, physiological problems and increased mortality.

In the sediment and on beaches the oil can get into shell fish, for example mussels and it has been shown that the hydrocarbons are passed up the food chain from shellfish to amphipods (small shrimp-like creatures) to fish and then eventually to us!

The destruction of oil spills isn’t just short term (before the oil is cleaned up); even years afterwards, the marine environment is still being effected. For example the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, though the oceans appear clean and healthy again, the oil is still in the sea – sunk down into the deepwater and sediment and we do not yet know what impact this could have on marine life.

Check out this video about the oil spill 5 years on:



So the question is – what can we do to help prevent oil causing harm to the oceans?

When you think of oil spilling into the oceans, you generally just think of the large catastrophic spills that happen due to anomalies, however lots of oil gets into the ocean due to the use of automobiles and industrial waste from production. The oil drippings from machines on land accumulate and run into the water systems and then into the oceans.  And whilst it is hard to prevent oil spills from occurring, there are things we can do to help reduce the chance of more spills:

  • Reduce your fossil fuel consumption – use less electricity and reduce car usage
  • Install your own renewable energy source – wind turbines and solar panels can be installed so that you can generate your homes own green energy
  • Support green energy instead of fossil fuels – there are many organisations that are fighting for the government to reduce oil stations and increase renewables. Try joining one of these and volunteer or donate small contributions or sign petitions for the government to help try and make a change. Here are a few useful sites for this
  • Renewable Energy Association http://www.r-e-a.net/
  • RenewableUK http://www.renewableuk.com/
  • Contribute to organisations that help to clean up oil spills – you can donate money to these organisations to help speed up the clean up of the oil after spills and help save the marine life.

So lets help make a change to prevent more damage to our oceans and the precious marine life!

Beth x



CNN, (2016). Revisit the BP oil spill, 5 years later – CNN Video. [online] Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/videos/us/2015/04/10/bp-gulf-oil-spill-five-year-anniversary-orig.cnn/video/playlists/disastrous-oil-spills/ [Accessed 16 Feb. 2016].

Kingston, P. (2002). Long-term Environmental Impact of Oil Spills. Spill Science & Technology Bulletin, 7(1-2), pp.53-61.

Neaq.org, (2016). Oil Spill – Effects on Wildlife and Habitats. [online] Available at: http://www.neaq.org/conservation_and_research/oil_spill/effects_on_wildlife_and_habitats.php [Accessed 13 Feb. 2016].

Response.restoration.noaa.gov, (2016). How Oil Harms Animals and Plants in Marine Environments | response.restoration.noaa.gov. [online] Available at: http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/oil-and-chemical-spills/oil-spills/how-oil-harms-animals-and-plants-marine-environments.html [Accessed 16 Feb. 2016].

West, L. (2016). 5 Ways Oil Spills Hurt the Environment. [online] About.com News & Issues. Available at: http://environment.about.com/od/petroleum/a/oil_spills_and_environment.htm [Accessed 13 Feb. 2016].