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What the Ocean Does for Our Planet and Us

While nearly half of the world's human population lives within 50 miles of a coast, all of us depend on the ocean and the resources it provides, whether it be for food we eat or the oxygen we breathe. The ocean provides invaluable benefits and services:

  • Climate Regulation: Ocean dynamics strongly affect climate and weather patterns, transferring heat from the equator to the poles and moderating carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
  • Food: Seafood is a major food staple and protein source. Per capita consumption of seafood is increasing around the globe.
  • Economy: Ocean-related industry provides revenue through fishing, seafood distribution, tourism, recreation and transportation. Seafood has become one of the most exported items in the global market today.
  • Transportation: Ocean-bound shipping accounts for more than 90 percent of global trade.
  • Medicine: Biomedical products derived from marine plant and animal sources provide important medicinal products and health benefits.
  • Recreation: The often-intangible benefits derived from spending time in and around the ocean are largely immeasurable.

Ocean Pollution and Human Health

Chris Twomey / Marine Photobank

Humans have developed and maintained strong ties with the marine environment for health, survival and recreation, utilizing the seemingly endless ocean resources available to us. But ocean resources and its resilience are finite. Unfortunately many of our daily activities, whether they intimately involve the ocean or take place hundreds of miles from the nearest coast, threaten the ocean. Our actions have a myriad of both direct and indirect negative effects.


  • Land-based pollutants: Waste originating on land such as plastics and electronics account for 80 percent of all marine debris.
  • Toxic chemicals: Chemicals that have been implicated in cancer, developmental problems and other health issues end up in the ocean.
  • Energy consumption: The burning of coal, accounting for roughly 50 percent of U.S. energy use, releases toxic mercury that ends up in the ocean and the fish we eat.
  • Pharmaceuticals: The Associated Press reports that U.S. hospitals and long-term care facilities alone flush millions of pounds of pharmaceuticals annually down the drain.
  • Oil spills: An estimated 706 million gallons of oil are leaked from ships or wash from land into the ocean each year.
  • Carbon emissions: The oceans have absorbed about 50 percent of carbon dioxide from our carbon emissions, resulting in a 30 percent increase in ocean acidity since the Industrial Revolution.

Not only are we contaminating the ocean and its inhabitants, we are ultimately contaminating ourselves. Our health is directly reliant upon the health of the ocean for our most basic sustenance—food and water.

Steve Spring / Marine Photobank
Seafood: We ingest harmful chemicals via toxin-laden seafood, including mercury and PCBs. These contaminants, among others, have serious developmental implications.
Water: Polluted water transfers water-borne diseases and toxic chemicals. Every year, more than 3.5 million people die worldwide from water-related diseases.

Living Sustainably While Living Healthy

SeaWeb helps mitigate ocean pollution by sharing and supporting safe, sustainable and responsible ways to interact with our marine environment.

SeaWeb's KidSafe Seafood program provides guidance for selecting healthy, sustainable fish for child consumption. KidSafe Seafood informs parents of the dangers of eating mercury- or PCB-laden seafood while providing sustainable, healthy alternatives.

To learn what you can do to live healthy and sustainably while helping the ocean, please see Get Involved. For more information, you can visit: