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pollution and the

geography of
the worlds oceans

Tim Dobson
The fact that the oceans of the world connect us is a relatively easy concept to for many of us to
grasp as many Canadian citizens alive today are the decedents of European immigrants who
came here via the oceans. The oceans impact on us is quite clear then, though the impact we
have on our oceans is a concept that is not as widely understood.

The oceans can continue to teach us about our interconnectivity through tracking of pollution.
What is dumped into the waterways of one region will hardly stay conned there. Just as the
social and economic decisions of one country might have very real impacts in another, so to do
the decisions made regarding the earths waters have impacts far beyond political borders.

Lessons and activities

What If? Scenario
Have students use computers or their phones to nd out what would happen to the coastlines of
the world if the ice of the at the polar caps melts.
If access to the internet is not feasible, explain that some predictions call for increase to the
ocean levels of 70 meters (300 feet).
Display the detailed map of Nova Scotia on a screen at the head of the classroom, or hand it out
the students if needed.
Hand out the simple map of Nova Scotia to the students.
Either based upon their own internet ndings or using the information you have provided, have
the students redraw an approximation of how Nova Scotia would look if the saps were to melt.
This activity can be done by the students as individuals, or if large enough maps can be
obtained, as a group.
Acid Rain
Before discussing the disruptive inuence the rising pH levels are having on marine life, have
the students break into groups and brainstorm factors that they think are causing acid rain.

Have the students announce their ideas to the class and write the ndings on the board.
Discuss why (or if) the factors theyve come up with contribute to acid rain.

Have the students return to their groups and discuss how they think acid rain inuences the
environment, and then repeat the steps above.

Show this short BBC video explaining acid rain:

Explain the effects that ocean pH levels are having on phytoplankton and go on to discuss the
vital role they play in oxygen production.
Current Currents
Have students randomly draw locations from two sets of costal communities (one starting
location, and one destination). Using a map of global currents, have students plot how garbage
could theoretically make it from their startling location to their destination. If time and resources
permit, students may use the following interactive map to assist them:,11.82,493

If students nd that it is not possible for them to connect the two destinations, have them plot a
route that will take their trash as close as possible, and explain why they had to stop shy of their
Reef Madness
Hand students copies of a global map and discuss the largest coral reef in the world (the Great
Barrier Reef) located just off the coast of Australia.

Have the students break into groups and, using the resources available, have the groups gather
all they can about the second largest reef in the world (the Belize Barrier Reef off the Belizean

Have the groups share their ndings with the class and write them on the board.
Finally, have the groups choose a third reef system to examine. Utilizing the library and/or
internet, have them report on the following as they pertain to there reefs theyve chosen:
Reef(s) name
Type of reef
Current health status
How the reef(s) support the local economy (shing, tourism, etc.)
Any governmental or local protection and conservation programs working to protect
the reef(s).

Whether feature length or series, in a world where students rely more and more on visuals to
learn, good video content is of ever increasing importance.


While there are certainly many more documentaries that deal with ocean pollution, this is a list
of well received and extensively researched documentaries that are both informative and

PLASTICIZED (2012) Runtime: 48 min.
Account of the 5 Gyres Institute on their very rst scientic expedition, focused on plastic waste,
through the centre of the South Atlantic Ocean. This is the story of the institute's global mission
to study the effects, reality, and scale of plastic pollution around the world. This documentary
(unlike many YouTube options) is very well subtitled for those who may need or prefer text. And
though it can be overly dramatic at times, it is still a very informative video.

Our Ocean: Marine Pollution Panel (2014) Runtime: 59 min.
This is a collection of video taken from an Our Ocean conference in the United States. While
this is a much more academic documentary than some of the more stylized entires, it
nonetheless contains many great facts and gures. Unfortunately, as this is a US Department
of Sate conference, many of the statistic presented have a clear US centric point of view. As
one of the most recent resources available however, it is worth consideration.

Sea the Truth (2010) Runtime: 60 min.
This is a particularly easy to watch documentary from the Netherlands. The chapter based
format and concise manner of presentation make it ideal for in class viewing. Though the
documentary hits on a number of different topics, highlights include toxins, pollutants, the effects
of climate change, and overshing.#


Series are generally a little shorter than documentaries which can make them easier for
students to absorb, and easier to show in class. There is also the added benet that if you nd
students responding to the narrative style of one particular series you can then return to that
series for videos on many additional topics.

Horizon: Death of the Oceans (2010) Runtime: 40 min.
This episode of BBC series Horizon contains very dire warnings and is presented in a very
dramatic fashion. Though the provided link will run for 40 minutes, is not the full program. This
link is best used when carved up into individual segments, unless the physical copy of the video
can be obtained.

Nova: Ocean Animal Emergency (2008) Runtime: 52 Min.
This episode of the American PBS series Nova focuses more specically on the impact that
both pollution and human contact is having on the animal life of the worlds oceans. However,
the episode does go on to discuss the broader environment impact as well. In either case, the
human connection is at the forefront of the discussion.

The Nature of Things: One Ocean (2010) Runtime: 45 min. each episode.
This is actually a four part miniseries itself, though it is still narrated by David Suzuki and is
considered a part of his Nature of Things series on CBC. Over these four episodes Suzuki
narrates video that explains the life and origins of earths oceans from their beginnings into the
present day. Though a great deal of content is presented within the four episode series, Suzuki
presents the information in a very straightforward manner, and the content is very easy for
audiences to digest.

The precise facts and science of the plight the worlds oceans currently face should each be
broken down into individual lesson plans to ensure that students understand WHY these events
are occurring. However, simple graphs and images can sometimes have the most impact and
these charts, graphs, and images highlight some of the most interesting data.
This image shows an algal bloom contributing to the formation of a dead zone more detail than
the graphic on the previous page. While this image is an example of a dead zone off of the
coast of the United Sates of America, it is important to remember that there are dead zones on
every major continent in the world.
Below is an example of a graphic highlighting the different dead zones that have appeared
along the worlds coastlines. This image is notable in that it also shows areas of concern in
addition to those already labeled as dead zones.

Many scientists consider it a real possibility that
the earths oceans could be virtually devoid of life
as soon the year 2050. While scientists consider
this to the worst case and most pessimistic
timeline, the fact that it is even a possibility is

According to the United Nations Food and
Agricultural Organization,

" About 75% of sh caught is used for
human consumption. The remainder is
converted into sh-meal and oil used
mainly for animal feed and for farmed sh.
" About 1 billion people largely in
developing countries rely on sh as their
primary animal protein source. For
example, while sh provide slightly over 7
percent of animal protein in North and
Central America, in Asia they provide over 26 percent.
" In general, people in developing countries and especially those in coastal areas are
much more dependent on sh as a staple food than those in the developed world.#
" As a continent, Asia has the highest consumptions of seafood, combining high per-
person consumptions with large populations.
If the potential loss of the food that we eat is not enough to drive home the issues facing the
worlds ocean, how about the loss of the air that we breathe? Though the exact statistics are
understandably difcult for scientists to calculate (as there is no discernible difference between
the oxygen created by land based plant life and that created by marine plant life), many
scientists believe that phytoplankton or other marine life produce between 50 and 75 percent of
the oxygen we breathe. And according to NASA scientists, the levels of phytoplankton in the
worlds oceans is dropping.

Below is a very magnied image of a phytoplankton, a species that without whom the earth
would be very different. It was after all the ancestors of this organism that changed ancient
earths atmosphere from a carbon based atmosphere to the oxygen based one we all know and
love today.

The above image depicts phytoplankton concentrations using the following colour scheme:
High Concentration - Yellow and Red
Middle Concentration - Green
Low Concentration - Purple and Blue

Everything from warmer
temperatures to ocean
acidication has
impacted the
population, and there is
no way to know for
certain how the
continued reduction of
their population will
impact the globe.
Fish and plankton are not the only animals suffering as the result of the continued pollution of
the oceans. The brightly coloured pieces plastic that oat on the oceans surface are often
mistaken for food by hungry animal life. Below is a picture of a bird who appears to have
starved to death with a stomach full of plastic it could not digest or expel (leaving no room in its
stomach for actual food). While the image is somewhat graphic, it is a situation that happens far
to often. This picture is but one among many, and several photographers have documented
similar examples.
While many people have heard rumours of a giant island of plastic debris oating out in the
ocean (colloquially known as the Great Pacic Garbage Patch), this is not exactly true. While
there continues to be an ever increasing amount of plastic particulate in the oceans waters, it
does not collect in a oating island the size of Texas as some believe. Plastic photodegrades,
which means that it breaks down when exposed to sunlight. While oating on the surface of
one of the earths oceans, plastic is exposed to a great deal of sunlight and behind to
ohotodegrade. However, this ocean plastic does not completely disappear. Some of plastic
degrades to the point that it becomes almost gelatinous, while other plastics break up into
smaller and smaller ecks. In either case, the half broken down plastic tragically resembles
marine life, and is eaten by sh and other animals in the ocean. Ocean gyres (which are
swirling bodies of water generated by ocean currents) concentrate plastic particulate and rescue
in alarming concentrations, and while these may not be as dramatic an image as a plastic island
you could practically walk on, they are actually far more lethal.
As trash thrown into the oceans it moves about the globe and will likely be collected in one of
the large patches generated by ocean gyres. In these gyres, plastic particulate can actually
outnumber food resources, making it virtually impossible for the ocean life near the surface
sustain itself.
While there are many great websites like Google, Wikipedia, Netix, or YouTube that so many of
us use or are already familiar with, there are other examples that do not enjoy the same level of
popularity and might be overlooked. The websites listed below are not only useful for
researching additional material on the state of the worlds oceans, but also for researching most
of the topics one is likely to encounter as an educator.

World Culture Pictorial. While this site does occasionally use some pretty heady scientic
terminology in discussing topics, the material presented herein is often clear and concise. The
site also tends to connect smaller events with larger forces and issues that have caused or
contributed to them. A great resource for the many graphs and diagrams generated by various
scientic world authorities.

TED Talks. While many people are familiar with the Ted Talks for social issues or motivational
speeches, there is also a signicant amount of good scientic information as well. One should
also be careful not to overlook the TEDx talks where independent organizers utilize the TED
website and TED talk format to help spread information and build audiences for their ideas.
TEDx allows for people from all over the world to utilize the TED talk format and has generated
a great deal of quality content. One of the chief advantages to using TED is the way the
information is generally contained in shorter videos and is presented by gifted commentators.

Top Documentary Films. This website contains information on a large variety of documentary
lms. One of the best features is the sites rating system which gives an honest account of the
quality of the documentary based upon feedback from the websites members. The site also
freely hosts many of the documentaries, or links to other sites that do. This can be a good
alternative to Google or YouTube as those sites often make it difcult to lter out poorly
researched or edited content.

One Ocean. Hosted by the CBC and connected to David Suzukis The Nature of Things
series, this website contains a fantastic variety of games, images, information, virtual tours, and
videos. The structure of the website allows users to explore at their own pace, and would make
an excellent resource for educators.

National Geographic. While the magazines have been a resource of information used by
generations of children the world over, the website for National Geographic is also a fantastic
tool that might get lost in the proverbial shufe. In addition their Kids, Students, and Family
sections, the site also offers resources for teachers in their Educators section. The Educators
section is led with materials needed to construct lesson plans, and when paired with their Kids
section, should make any of the topics they cover approachable to most grade levels.

The Bridge. While this site focuses specically on marine resources, it is still a very valuable
resource. The site encourages educators to us its resources and it a terric repository of
graphs, charts, and data. The site also has a collection of lesson plans that are free to use.


Given that the worlds oceans and lakes cover 71 percent of our planet, it is surprising that e
know so little about them. The world relies on the oceans for water, power, transportation,
oxygen, food, and so many other factors that it seems foolish to gamble with its future. Though
countries have drawn borders over and through bodies of water, it is clear that the decisions
made in one region can have detrimental effects on a region hundreds of miles away. The
ocean connect us all, regardless of political or geographical borders. We live in a time where the
internet and global communications are making the world seem like an increasingly smaller
community. The economic crises at the close of the last decade showed the world how our
economies are intertwined and connected. Why have societies been so reluctant to adapt this
global worldview with regards to one of the forces which clearly connects us in such tangible
manner? For countries, world leader, and populations to continue to ignore the issues plaguing
our oceans is to invite disaster for us all regardless of ones economic standing or geographical
location. The actions of one nation affects us all, and we must therefore all be part of the
solution if any of us to reap the benets of oceans once great bounties.