What is oil pollution? What are its impacts on the marine ecosystem? In what way is oil pollution particularly harmful for a country like India?

Human-caused oil pollution involves the release of liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment, especially the marine ecosystem. Land or marine oil spills can have serious social, economic, and environmental effects. 

Following are some impacts of oil pollution on marine life:

  • Fouling or Oiling: Oil destroys fur-bearing mammals’ insulation and birds’ water repellency, exposing them to harsh weather. Birds and mammals die from hypothermia without water repellence and insulation. Oil can trap juvenile sea turtles, who mistake it for food. Inhaling oil can harm dolphins and whales’ lungs, immune systems, and reproduction. Many birds and animals poison themselves by ingesting oil when cleaning.
  • Water Pollution: Oil can contaminate fish, shellfish, and corals if it enters the water column. Oil can cause reduced growth, enlarged livers, heart and respiration rate changes, fin erosion, and reproduction impairment in adult fish. Fish larvae are especially susceptible to oil pollution’s lethal and sublethal effects.
  • Air Pollution: Burning surface oil can cause soot particles. Ship emissions of nitric oxides and ozone will occur during cleanup and recovery.
  • Economic and Ecological Damage: Oil spills can cause economic losses in the fishing, shipping, and tourism industries. Ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing oil from oil spills can harm marine life, including waterfowl, fish, plants, and living organisms. Oil spills may also stop algae, seaweed, kelp, and other plant growth.
  • Oil pollution can harm marine and coastal wildlife, causing immediate health issues and long-term changes in physiology and behaviour. Oil can temporarily harm animals, but large doses can cause cancer and direct wildlife death.

India is especially vulnerable to oil pollution due to its rich marine ecosystems, habitat destruction, tarballs, oil spills, and lack of laws. Recent Indian oil spills:

  • Approximately 500 tonnes of oil spilled into the sea in 2022, and 250 containers with hazardous chemicals and pesticides fell overboard.
  • In 2017, two cargo ships collided in Chennai, India, causing a major oil spill that damaged the coastal ecosystem .
  • The 650-tonne oil bulk carrier MV Ocean Seraya spilled near Karwar on India’s west coast in 2008, affecting marine fisheries and marine biota. Chemicals from spilled oil bleached coral reefs, killing them. Although the oil spill wasn’t large, the coral reef damage was massive and will likely last for years.

Oil spills damage marine and coastal ecosystems, endangering indigenous seafood eaters. Lack of oil spill laws makes it hard to hold responsible parties accountable and prevent and clean up oil spills. 

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