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Ocean Dumping And Marine Pollution - The Disregarded Dilemma

Oceans are such components of the ecosystem which influences every other component directly or indirectly. They form an indispensable part of the global ecosystem. Although the ocean covers two-thirds of the surface of the Earth, it is surprisingly vulnerable to human influences such as overfishing, pollution, and waste dumping from various human activities. It has become a tin for significant quantity of waste produced on land. Among all types of activities that adulterate the ocean and incumbers the marine health and ecosystem, garbage debris and other waste material dumping, tops the list.

Ocean dumping includes almost all types of waste materials including sewage, industrial waste, biomedical waste, construction debris, dredged materials, and radioactive wastes as well. The term ocean dumping is not just about Oceans, but is considerable towards other water bodies including seas, coastal water bodies, territorial waters etc. It contributes hugely to water pollution and also threatens the environment at large. This paper will define ocean dumping and will cover its overall current status.

There has been a number of public institutionalized action plans dealing with the problem of marine litter. The author will examine and try to understand the laws on ocean dumping and how it has evolved in the modern times.

The paper will also analyze and review the causes and effects of ocean dumping and also probe into the approaches to curb this problem on international basis, national basis and mainly on local grounds. Moreover, the author has also proposed credible solutions to deride its consequences.

Hydrosphere covers almost 70% of our blue planet. The world ocean is the principal component of Earth's hydrosphere, it is integral part of life, and are such components of the ecosystem which influences every other component directly or indirectly. The seas moderate the land temperature; they are universal global sinks. They also provide economically feasible trade routes.

And presently, the human activities have proven to be the largest threat to these lively oceans. It is surprisingly vulnerable to human influences such as overfishing, pollution, waste dumping and what not. It has become a garbage box for significant quantity of waste produced on land. Such an indispensable and crucial part of our existence is on peaky threat, the major reason being the continuous exploitation of the water resources. Topping the causes of such threat is the act of Ocean Dumping.

Ocean Dumping, also termed as Marine Dumping has been defined as the deliberate disposal of wastes or other matter from vessels, aircraft, platforms, or other man-made structures into oceans.[1] OECD defines it as:
the deliberate disposal of hazardous wastes at sea from vessels, aircraft, platforms or other human-made structures. It includes ocean incineration and disposal into the seabed and sub-seabed.[2]

The earth's oceans are under serious threat from these wastes mostly because of the chemicals and dumped nonbiodegradable components. Dumping of wastes, chemical or biological, organic, or inorganic degrades the habitation of a number of aquatic species and affects their well-being undesirably. The water bodies naturally possess the components like mercury, lead etc. Humans are nothing but doubling the quantities of such materials.

The increase in the level of contamination is not only polluting the surface of water bodies but also the beds and other ecological organisms living under water, therefore creating an imbalance in the entire ecosystem. Since all lives are mutually interdependent, any change in the normal condition of the biochemical cycle can have a major impact on the global ecosystem as a whole. `

Main Contributors To Ocean Dumping

Sediments and other organic matter of nature and man are been poured into the oceans for eons; but with the advent of industrial revolution and flourishing civilization came greater volumes and more toxic wasted than had ever found their way to the oceans before. About 10% of the pollutants entering the world's oceans are introduced as a result of someone's collecting wastes, putting them on a large ship or vessel and then taking them out for disposal at seas and oceans.

The sources of these pollutants are multifarious- from municipalities, from factories, from agricultural run-off, and last but not the least from direct ocean disposal. Oil spillage, plastic waste disposal, mercury wastes and pesticides are some of the common examples of wastes that are dumped in the water bodies. The worst of all is issue of plastic debris.

Some of the major causes of ocean dumping are as under:
  • Spillages from offshore rigs and oil tankers are prime examples of the contributors to ocean dumping. It usually occurs either on a large scale due to accidents that spill massive volumes of oil on the ocean surface or without knowledge, where small amounts of oil are leaked into the ocean from oil tankers
  • The intensity of careless dumping of gutter and industrial wastes into the ocean has increased the scale of ocean dumping, especially considering the volume of sewage homes, industries, and factories. Due to carelessness, the wastes from industries are not treated before they are discharged into the ocean.
  • Ocean mining is another big source of ocean dumping. Large amounts of trash from ocean mining are disposed into our oceans each day. This waste can also include toxic by-products from mining activities which can cause serious adverse effects for a variety of water animals and plants.
  • In many countries, there are no control mechanisms regarding ocean dumping. Plenty of the waste get disposed into oceans since it is not controlled.
  • Excessive consumption can be a cause of ocean dumping. In our current society, consumption levels skyrocketed during the last decades. The production of material goods also involves the transportation of resources over quite long distances. This also includes shipping large amounts of resources. The shipping of resources like oil can in turn lead to serious pollution in case of accidents or leaks.

Main Effects Of Ocean Dumping

Ocean Dumping adversely effects the environment. Marine creatures and plants bear the brunt of the harmful substances in the dumped materials. The wastes that are dumped into the oceans mostly contain toxic substances, which soak in all the oceanic oxygen. This leads to a marked depletion of oxygen available to mammals and other fishes causing them to die in their natural habitat.[3]

Every year, according to reports, more than one million seabirds are being killed by ocean pollution. As wastes gets blended with the sea water, a number of chemical processes takes place including acid-base neutralization, dissolution of waste solids, particle adsorption and desorption, volatilization at the sea surface which ultimately results in changing of the oxidation state and the one that settles at the seabed encounter distinct geochemical and biological activities.[4] All these ultimately results to a great imbalance to the marine ecosystem.

There has been a number of public institutionalised action plans dealing with the problem of marine litter like the National River Conservation Plan, National Marine Litter Policy and other initiatives signed by government. Besides, various private institutions are fighting ocean dumping in their own way. In the current paper, the author has tried to deal with changing trends of laws internationally and in India and has drawn a theoretical difference between laws of other countries and that of India.

International Conventions And Treaties

  1. Convention On International Maritime Organisation, 1948:

    The 1948-Convention on International Maritime Organization was adopted in Geneva, Switzerland. It embarks the history of International Conventions on Maritime Environment Protection. Article 37 of the Convention calls for all the members of the Convention to assemble forming, The Marine Environment Protection Committee[5]. Article 38 is concerned with restraining and supervision of the pollution caused by the ships.

    It provides for accession of scientific, technical or any other empirical knowledge for such prevention of pollution.[6] Through Article 39, the Committee is required to submit proposals, recommendations, guidelines and finally a report of states under the organization working towards the same.[7] Further, one of its amendments[8] talked about how oil spill is one of the major causes of marine pollution and techniques to deal with it.
  2. International Convention For The Prevention Of Pollution Of The Sea By Oil (OILPOL), 1954:

    OILPOIL, 1954 was a Treaty signed in London with its main objective to regulate the water pollution caused by oil spilling through ships. This Convention recognized that most oil pollution resulted from routine shipboard operations such as the cleaning of cargo tanks. The convention ceases and imposes penalty for oil, or any other oil mixture spillage done by ships or cargo into just the prohibited zones or territorial waters but the entire maritime. It also takes into account the supervision of hazardous substances into the water bodies and accounts for parties to work towards the same.
  3. United Nations Conference On The Human Environment (Stockholm Conference), 1972

    The Stockholm Declaration consisted of 26 principles. Safeguarding the environment was final declaration of the Stockholm Conference. Amongst the 26 principles of the Conference for the protection of the Environment, prevention of Oceanic Pollution was one.[9] It makes it mandatory for the states to take all possible initiatives for stopping harm to marine life.
  4. International Convention For The Prevention Of Pollution From Ships (Marpol), 1973

    Adopted by IMO in 1973, MARPOL is a combination of convention held in 1973 and a protocol implementing its recommendations in the year 1978. It covers pollution of the marine environment by ships from operational or accidental causes.

    It lists various forms of marine pollution caused by oil, noxious liquid substances, harmful substances in packaged form, sewage, and garbage from ships, etc. this protocol ensures that shipping remains the least environmentally damaging modes of transport. It mainly highlights the points to ensure that the marine environment is preserved by the elimination of pollution by all harmful substances which may be discharged from the ships.[10
  5. The Global Programme Of Action For The Protection Of Marine Environment From Land-Based Activities (GPA), 1995

    This was created as a unique intergovernmental mechanism to counter the issue of land-based pollution. The GPA was adopted by 108 Governments, and the European Commission at an intergovernmental conference convened in Washington, D.C., in 1995.

    The GPA tackles marine litter, nutrient, and wastewater pollution also through the key role of global partnerships for which the Coordination Office acts as a Secretariat. These partnerships are- Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML), Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM) and Global Wastewater Initiative (GW-I).[11] GPA also offers a link to land-based activities and atmospheric emissions in context of depositions to marine environment. This programme also inspires the private ventures, NGOs, and various environmental committees to come forward and work towards this common goal.
  6. Shore Protection Act Of 1988 (SPA)

    The Shore Protection Act 1988 created by the Title IV of the Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988 prohibits the transportation of municipal or commercial waste within coastal waters by a vessel. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in consultation with the U.S. Coast Guard, is responsible for developing regulations governing the loading, securing, offloading, and cleaning up of such wastes from waste sources, reception facilities, and vessels.[12]

    The main motives of the regulations are to minimize the release of waste into coastal waters during vessel loading, transport, and unloading, and to ensure that any released waste is reported and cleaned up.
  7. Marine Protection, Research And Sanctuaries Act Of 1972

    The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act allows the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate the dumping activities of industrial and municipal wastes into the oceans or other territorial waters of the United States. The Act generally prohibits- transportation of material from the United States for the purpose of ocean dumping, transportation of material from anywhere for the purpose of ocean dumping by U.S. agencies, and dumping of material transported from outside the United States into the U.S. territorial sea. The regulations enacted by this Act are directed to prevent or strictly limit the dumping into ocean waters of any material that would adversely affect human health, welfare, or amenities, or the marine environment, ecosystems, or economic potentialities.[13]
  8. The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), 1974

    The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) addresses environmental issues under the sphere of activity of International Maritime Organization (IMO). This includes the control and prevention of ship-source pollution covered by the MARPOL treaty, including oil, chemicals carried in bulk, sewage, garbage, and emissions from ships, including air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions.[14]

Laws Of Ocean Dumping In India

Marine management in India's federal political structure is primarily carried out through the enactment of legislation by both the central and provincial governments.[15] An array of organisations and agencies; with overlapping jurisdiction, controlled by the central as well as the provincial governments, deal with the problem. India's dominant physical features and geographical location in the Indian Ocean indicate its dependence on the sea for both prosperity and security. The foreign trade through the oceans accounted for an estimated 20 per cent of Gross National Product (GNP) in an estimated report of 1994-95.[16]

The economic development issues in the oceans have been one of the major reasons for ocean degradation. It is imperative, therefore, to increase cooperation towards conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources as outlined in the goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).[17] The major legislations which deals with marine pollution and ocean protection are discussed further.
  1. The Water (Prevention And Control Of Pollution) Act, 1974

    Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 is a comprehensive legislation that regulates agencies responsible for checking on water pollution and ambit of pollution control boards both at the centre and states. Under the Act, Sewage or pollutants cannot be discharged into water bodies and it is the duty of the state pollution control board to intervene and stop such activity. Anyone failing to abide by the laws of under is liable for imprisonment under Section 24[18] & Section 43[19] ranging from not less than one year and six months to six years along with monetary fines.
  2. The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone And Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976

    This Act provides for making of specific laws for protecting the territorial waters[20], continental shelf and EEZs[21] from getting polluting. In order to protect the marine environment, the act provides for jurisdiction to the Government to take any necessary action to control the contamination[22] of the water bodies.
  3. Indian National Centre For Ocean Information Services (Incois), 1999

    This is an autonomous body under the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES). The main mission of this organization is to provide ocean data, information and advisory services to society, industry, the government and the scientific community through sustained ocean observations and constant improvements through systematic and focused research in information management and ocean modelling.[23]

Besides all these bodies and legislations, under the UN's Clean Seas Campaign, India launched a National Marine Litter Policy in 2018 to monitor plastic waste sliding into the ocean. The India-Norway Ocean Dialogue has decided to work closely on oceans maintenance, thus introduced the concept of Blue Economy. India braced the South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) for protecting and preserving the aquatic environment in March 2018.[24] Later Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Shared Vision of India-Indonesia Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, 2018 considering the issues of Marine Environment safeguarding the well-being of the water bodies.[25]

Major Challenges To Neutralise Ocean Dumping Issue In India

India has been working untiringly in order the curb the problem of ocean dumping and some of its very important strategies involve collaborations made with the developed countries like Germany and Norway in 2019. Still various challenges remain to counter the problem.
  1. The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976 Act provides:
    Exclusive jurisdiction to preserve and protect the marine environment and to prevent and control marine pollution. [26]

    But there is no prescribed limit as to what standards will the effluents and discharge of pollutants into the territorial waters, continental shelf, EEZs or other Maritime Zones will be responsible to cause the water pollution. The Act formulates no rules towards time limit for the cleaning of such discharges before it exploits a wider area of such zones
  2. In India, there is no law which specifically deals with the problem of ocean dumping and marine pollution. There are various zone of water bodies which makes the ambit of Ocean Dumping very wide and thus, it becomes very difficult to address the issue. With one specific law for the regulation of Ocean Dumping, covering not just water bodies, but also territorial waters, Coastal Areas, EEZs, etc, the problem could be easily tackled under the same umbrella.
  3. When we say Ocean Dumping, the first thing that comes into our minds is dumping wastes into the ocean. But the word, covers much more than just its literal interpretation. Ocean Dumping is not just about dumping wastes into the Oceans, but is considerable towards other water bodies including seas, coastal water bodies, territorial waters etc. This problem of vagueness of its definition makes it difficult to work upon the matter and pose solutions towards the issue.
  4. Though the Constitution of India contains provisions to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures[27], the events of climate change are increasing in both frequency and intensity, and the government's attitude on the issue is not that effective. The problem, being overlooked for a longer time, has created some major irreversible problems to the marine environment.

Conclusion And Recommendations
The rise in the number of cases of ocean dumping has been on a rise and in order to achieve a better place what is needed is action, not mere words. There have been a lot of local approaches that are dealing with the problem of ocean dumping in their own way in an effective manner. In 2018, nearly 5,000 fishermen and boat owners in Kollam have been carrying back to land all the plastic that they find while they're out at sea.

With help from several government agencies, they've also set up the first-ever recycling centre in the region, to clean, sort, and process all the sea-tossed plastic bags, bottles, straws and so on.[28] Another such example is initiated by a global company UCO Gear, under the guidance of Steven Reinhold who have worked upon towards a new trend on social media. It challenges people to come forward by using #trashtag and clean the litter around the beaches and other natural resources.[29] These local approaches are not just worthy, but when implemented on a larger scale can impact the ecosystem in its entirety.

Plastic is one of the major ocean debris, particularly in India. A lot of countries have already banned the single-use plastic items. In the month of November 2019, the Indian Government too has banned 8 single-use plastic items completely including plastic cutlery, plastic bags, and certain Styrofoam items.[30] The main problem of India in the aspect of controlling ocean pollution is the absence of a distinct legislation. The water resources in and around India are very widespread and substantial at the same time, and thus, requires a distinct legislation. The persisting acts dealing with water pollution have quite a number of loopholes and very weak punishments.

There must be a bridge between functioning of the government and functioning of other agencies, working directly or indirectly towards the similar goal. In today's era, environmental regulations need not to remain confined within the horizon of national government. The Government, on the other hand, needs to build an interconnected web combining the local approaches, the public as well as private operational agencies in order to produce desirable results.

Effective means of communication like television, radio should be used as a toolbox for promoting the need and importance of saving the water resources from the wastes and litter. More chains like #trashtag[31] must be promoted and suitable slogans preventing Ocean Dumping must be broadcasted across the country.

The Indian Judiciary undoubtedly has been working in its most effective way. Establishing the relationship between health and sustainability, the Supreme Court, in the case M.C. Mehta v. Union of India[32] has issued directions to install sewage treatment plants in a time-bound manner. Art 48A as a Directive Principle of State Policy (DPSP) directing the state:
To protect and improve the environment and to safeguard forests and wildlife of the country.[33]

Article 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution which thrives a fundamental duty on the citizens of the country to:
Protect and improve the natural environment and have compassion for the living creatures. [34] Though these laws are being implemented, these organs have not put in their best efforts to conserve environment.[35] Therefore, just judiciary cannot work entirely, and the three pillars have to work together to bring out the best for our environment.

  1. Marine Dumping, Safe Drinking Water Foundation (Sept. 21, 2020, 07:22 PM),
  2. Ocean Dumping, Glossary Of Statistical Terms (Sept. 21, 07:32 PM),
  3. Shamseer Mambra, Ocean Pollution: 6 things that make it worse, MARINE INSIGHT (Jan 03, 2021, 12:01 PM),
  4. Ocean Dumping, Encyclopedia.Com (Jan 03, 2021, 11:59 AM),
  5. 1948 Convention on the International Maritime Organization, (Jan 11, 2021, 03:55 PM),
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Conventions, International Maritime Organization (Jan 11, 2021, 03:53 PM),
  9. United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Conference), 1972, Sustainable Development Goals Knowledge Platform (Jan 11, 2021, 04:16 PM),
  10. Raunek, International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL): The Ultimate Guide, MARINE INSIGHT (Jan 11, 2021, 04:38 PM),
  11. Addressing land-based pollution, UN Environment Programme (Jan 14, 2021, 10:57 AM),
  12. Shore Protection Act, 1988.
  13. Summary of Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, United States Environmental Protection Agency (Jan 15, 2021, 07:41 PM),
  14. Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), International Maritime Organization (Jan 15, 2021, 07:54 PM),,environmental%20issues%20under%20IMO's%20remit.
  15.  Rahul Roy Chaudhury, Ocean/ Marine Management in India, IDSA (Jan 17, 2021, 12:21 PM),
  16. Rahul Roy Chaudhury, Ocean/ Marine Management in India, IDSA (Jan 17, 2021, 12:21 PM),
  17. Sustainable Development Goals, UNDP (Jan 17, 2021, 12:18 PM),
  18. Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, 24, No. 6, Acts of Parliament, 1974 (India).
  19. Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, 43, No. 6, Acts of Parliament, 1974 (India).
  20. The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone And Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976, 4, No. 80, Acts of Parliament, 1976 (India).
  21. Id., 7.
  22. Id.,15.
  23. ESSO- Indian National Centre For Ocean Information Services (Jan 17, 2021, 05:14 PM),
  24. Cabinet approves MoU between India and South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme for Cooperation on the response to Oil and Chemical Pollution in the South Asian Seas Region, Press Information Bureau, Govt. Of India (Jan 17, 2021, 10:57 PM),
  25. Dr. Vijay Sakhuja, Marine Debris worry Indian and Indonesian Leaders, Vivekananda International Foundation (Jan 17, 2021, 10:50 PM),
  26. The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone And Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976, 6-7, No. 80, Acts of Parliament, 1976 (India).
  27. India Const. art. 51 A (g).
  28. Maanvi Singh, How India's fishermen turn ocean plastic into roads, National Geographic (Jan 17, 2021, 11:00 PM),
  29. Trevor Nace, #TrashTag Challenge Goes Viral As People Share Before/After Photos Of Their Cleanup, Forbes (Jan 16, 2021, 11:36 AM),
  30. Anubhuti Vishnoi, Government may list 8 single-use plastic items, The Economic Times (Jan 16, 2021, 11:50 AM),
  31. supra note 29
  32. M.C. Mehta v. Union of India, (1997) 2 SCC 411.
  33. India Const. art. 48A.
  34. supra note 27.
  35. Karan Bhasin, Environmental Governance: Who Is Best Equipped, Executive Or Judiciary?, Swarajya (Jan 18, 2021, 03:34 PM),

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