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How beach pollution affects us?

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

One of our greatest natural resources has become a garbage dump and the results are taking a toll on human and marine health. Billions of pounds of pollution end up in our oceans each year, and the majority of it comes from human activities along the coastlines and inland. There are six types of beach pollution: algae, blue-green algae, sewage, plastic, garbage and oil pollution. Polluted beach water affects not only human and animal health, but also the economies.

People with weakened immune systems are the most likely populations to develop illnesses or infections after coming into contact with polluted water, usually while swimming. Illnesses associated with polluted beach water include stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis, and hepatitis. Fortunately, while swimming-related illnesses are unpleasant, they are usually not very serious. They require little or no treatment or get better quickly upon treatment, and they have no long-term health effects.

Animals are also affected by beach pollution. It is estimated that beach pollution affects more than 800 species of wildlife around the world. More than 100,000 seabirds, sea turtles, seals, and other marine mammals die each year after ingesting plastic or getting entangled in it. Animals can easily mistake floating plastic for food, causing them to choke, sustain an internal injury, or starve.

In addition to the health effects of polluted beach water, there may be deep financial impacts as well. Economists have estimated that a typical swimming day is worth approximately US$35 for each beach visitor, so the economic loss for each day on which a beach is closed or under advisory for water quality problems can be quite significant. Almost US$1 billion in tourism revenue is lost annually. Local economies that receive billions from tourists who like to visit reefs or engage in aquatic activities are being threatened by coral bleaching, algal blooms, and contaminated waters. Those careless boating, diving, snorkeling, and fishing caused substantially damaged coral reefs in many parts of the world, through people touching reefs, stirring up sediment, and dropping anchors.

Some tourist resorts empty their sewage and other wastes directly into water surrounding coral reefs and other sensitive marine habitats. Marine animals such as whale sharks, seals, dolphins, whales, and birds are also disturbed by increased numbers of boats, and by people approaching too closely. Tourism can also add to the consumption of seafood in an area, putting pressure on local fish populations and sometimes contributing to overfishing. Collection of corals, shells, and other marine souvenirs also has a detrimental effect on the local environment.

Personal action can go a long way in reducing beach pollution. For example, picking up rubbish is an easy way to reduce pollution on our beaches and oceans. You may choose to join a beach clean-up. If we reduce the amount of rubbish we make on land it is likely there will be less in the ocean. You could also compost food scraps and find ways to reuse some of your rubbish. Beaches are for the public to enjoy, and it is also our responsibility to help keep them clean.

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