We’ve been told repeatedly that mercury is poisonous and we have to avoid it. But what about our environment? Mercury is affecting it too, especially the ocean. There are plenty of cases where fish contain high concentration of mercury so there has got to be a huge amount of mercury that ends up in the sea.
Exactly how do this mercury end up in the ocean anyway? Find out the answer in this 14 Causes of Mercury in the Ocean. You’d be surprised at how big human activities are involved.
Effects of Mercury in the Ocean
Below are some of the most staggering effects of mercury in the ocean that will push you to care more about the its exposure:
- Mercury poisoning
- Accumulation in the marine environment
After knowing the fatal effects, learn the various causes of mercury in the ocean:
1. Fur of Sea Lions and Seals
Research has shown that mercury can also spread in the ocean through the fur of sea lions and seals. Scientists think that this has happened since the 1970s Año Nuevo State Reserve. It’s a popular ground for seals and sea lions to breed. There was an unusually high level of mercury at the Año Nuevo State Reserve. Seals who are already contaminated by mercury, shed it through their fur. This will contaminate the water that they are in.
Algae contributes to the causes of mercury in the ocean. There’s not a lot of mercury nor methylmercury in the ocean water. But they do get absorbed by algae. This is especially high in Asia, where coals are constantly burned in power plants. Once the algae decomposes, the methylmercury will be released into the ocean water. On a side note, learn more about the importance of algae in ocean for the entire marine ecosystem.
3. Volcanic Activities
Mercury gets into ocean through volcanic activities as well. According to scientists, hot magma boils mercury. It combines with vapour and gases which end up into the atmosphere. The mercury gets involved in cloud formation and turn to water droplets. The droplets will then fall into the ocean. Based on research, around 7 tons of mercury are released to the atmosphere every year.
Another cause of mercury in the ocean is sediments. When sediments enter the water, they contain mercury. It is estimated that there is around 2 mg of mercury in some sediments located at the mouth of rivers. However, other areas do accumulate even more mercury than that. For instance, along the Thames Estuary. It has the highest concentration of mercury in London.
Read more: Characteristics of Ocean Sediments
5. Food Chain
Even though food chain is natural and necessary to the marine ecosystem, it can actually contribute to the distribution of mercury in ocean. Marine plants or small fish get affected by the mercury. They are then eaten by bigger predators. The mercury would accumulate in every marine creature, located in all parts of the world.
The process of mining gold is also involved in the causes of mercury in the ocean. It is released to the air as it is burned to separate gold from other rocks. It also enters the soil, come into contact with rainwater which will then flow into the ocean. What makes this mercury case even worse is the fact that regulations are weak and some of them are actually illegal.
7. Evaporation at Low Temperature
Mercury doesn’t need a high temperature to evaporate. It is able to do so even at low temperature with ease. It gets into the atmosphere and back into the huge body of water in the world, that is the ocean. According to scientists, this mercury is the leftover from industries over a hundred year ago.
8. Steel Production
Steel might have many uses for us. Besides that, it’s also strong and durable. But it’s not just about the end product that we should focus on. Our attention should also be on how steel is produced. The fact is, when steel is made, mercury is also produced. It won’t take long for it to enter the atmosphere
9. Breaking Products Containing Mercury
Apparently, if you break a product that contains mercury, there’s a chance that some of it will evaporate. It could be from breaking a thermometer or a lightbulb. Once it gets into the air, you know what happens next. It gets accumulated into the atmosphere. Even a small amount matters.
Read more: Interesting Facts of Ocean Pollution
10. Incinerating Products with Mercury
This is even more serious than breaking a product that contains mercury. When you throw away electronic devices, thermometers or light bulbs inappropriately, they may end up being incinerated. Burning such products will release a lot of mercury to the air and it will end up in the ocean. This is why it’s necessary to know how to dispose mercury related materials in the right way.
11. Burning Coals
We know burning coals is bad for the world and many countries still allow it. This is also a factor why the ocean has mercury. When coals are burned, they also release mercury into the air.
12. Wood Burning
Some studies indicate that wood can contain mercury. So the act of burning wood may help in distributing mercury to be released. It may not seem like a lot but over time, it can really pile up and the ocean will take it all in.
See more: Effects of Radiation on Ocean Life
13. Power Plants
Having electricity is nice isn’t it? But if energy comes from the wrong source, the result can be fatal. As of now, coals and fossil fuels are still used to provide energy. This causes mercury emission.
14. Chlorine Production
This last cause of mercury in the ocean is related to chlorine production. Chlorine is commonly used as antiseptic, in paints or solvents. It’s what you use to clean your swimming pool. However, despite the fact that it’s quite useful, its production does emit toxic mercury into the atmosphere.
Laws and regulations to reduce mercury being released into the air is always ongoing. Though progress might be slow, the awareness on the danger of mercury should not cease. After all, it’s harming our ocean, one of the biggest ecosystem that we have on earth.