Oil gentoo penguin, South Georgia

Photo credit: © Roger Grace/Greenpeace

This gentoo penguin is covered in oil from an oil spill in the coastal waters of South Georgia, in the South Atlantic Ocean. Research has found that some 42,000 Magellanic penguins alone die from oil pollution annually along the Argentinean coast.

Meanwhile, oil spills and chronic oil pollution - as much as 25 million barrels are estimated to enter the ocean each year - continue worldwide. Most of this is the result of the routine discharge of engine wastes and bilge slops into the seas, in direct violation of international treaties.

Coastal seas and the wider ocean have become the ultimate sink for all pollution. Activities on land, such as municipal sewage, agriculture runoff and industrial waste, account for 75 per cent of marine pollution and are the main cause of damage to marine habitat.

Sea-based activities, like offshore oil and gas development, pollution from ships, and waste disposal also contribute to the problems, as these activities damage essential nurseries for marine species. No place in the world's seas is immune from pollution, as ocean currents transport pollutants to the far corners of the world.

Many international treaties are in place to govern the marine environment. They include:
The Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-Based Sources, The International Law of the Sea Convention, The Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities, The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter and The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, known as the OSPAR Convention.

But says Lee Kimball author of International Ocean Governance, the effectiveness of international agreements and organizations could be improved, and stronger institutions are needed at regional and national levels.

Related articles:

Cleaning up the seas

Ocean pollution - facts and figures

Japanese whale meat 'contaminated with mercury'

IUCN calls for better ocean governance

Oil and blood stain the waters of the Galapagos Islands

Why was the Prestige in such a sensitive marine area?

Great Barrier Reef overloaded with pollutants

Related links:

Sea web

Coastal Resources Center

WWF - Endangered Seas Programme

UN Atlas of the Oceans