Saturday, January 06, 2007

Raw Sewage Threatens the Coasts and Oceans.

Fill in the correct answers in the blanks below. (See end of blog for answers).

1. Destruction and changes to marine habitats are the direct result of increasing coastal population - some ___ percent of the world's population lives on the costal zone, which is just over ___ percent of the Earth's land mass.

2. The average population density in the coastal zone rose is set to rise from ____ people per square kilometer in 1990 to ____ in 2025.


The latest United Nations report on the condition of the coastal areas and oceans of the world is discouraging at best. It reports that:

  • "Untreated sewage pouring into the world's seas and oceans is polluting their water and coastlines and endangering the health and welfare of the people and animals that inhabit them, according to a bleak new U.N. report released Wednesday on the threats to the world's marine environments."

    "As well as the growing problem of sewage, oceans also are suffering from rising levels of nutrients such as run-off from agricultural land triggering toxic algal blooms that deprive the water of oxygen, destruction of coastal ecosystems such as mangroves and a rising tide of ocean litter, says the State of the Marine Environment report drawn up by the U.N. Environment Program." AP story, Oct 2006

The Environmental News Service summarized some of the key pieces of information from this report:

  • "The study reports that sewage may be "the most serious problem" facing the marine environment, in part because it is the area where the least progress has been made. Over half of the wastewater entering the Mediterranean Sea is untreated. In many developing countries more than 80 percent of sewage entering the coastal zones is estimated to be raw and untreated, the report said."
  • "Increasing coastal populations, inadequate treatment infrastructure and waste handling facilities are all contributing to the sewage problem, the report said. Fixing the global sewage problem could cost at least $56 billion..."

Of course, this is a problem that directly affects the coastal areas as well as the wider and larger ocean environment. People swim, recreate, fish, and otherwise have intimate contact with the coastal zone where the sewage is being dumped. Moreover, the sewage affects the marshlands and wetlands along the shore where much of the marine life begins sicen these are the nurseries for marine critters.

One of the problems is that there are som many other high priorities (HIV Aids, war and genocide, hunder, very, VERY poor fresh drinking water, underdevelopment and poverty, depleation of energy resources, lack offood and huger, human rights, etc.) that sewage treatment marely makes the list of international priorities. Thus, if there were an extra $56 billion laying around to spend where do you think it would be allocated? Moreover, even more developed countries around the Mediterranean for example, are still dumping most of their sewage raw into the sea.

This issue poses the typical set of policy challenges that make efefctive coastal policy so very difficult to achieve. First, it is not one of the hot priority issues on which politicians run for office. Secon, it is an "invisible" problem so there is less urgency. Third, sewage treatment is a very expensive process (unless traditional method of disposal and processing are used such as putting sewage on fields as fertilizer and using natural mangrove and grass filters to allow nature to cleanse the sewage).

U.N. Environment Program chief Achim Steiner is quoted by AP as saying

  • "In many countries we are losing nature's capacity to actually deal with some of the sewage and effluents because we are destroying the wetlands that could provide us — particularly coastal wetlands — with filtration capacity to avoid the kind of runoff into the sea," he said. "We also need to rediscover or demonstrate how maintaining wetlands ... can avoid heavy infrastructure investments because nature can cope with a certain degree of pollution, particularly if you use its natural mechanisms."

This issue has been pushed to the coastal backburner for many decades and may now be building into a major crisis especailly if epidemics of disease such as e. coli erupt in coastal areas around the world.


1. 40 percent of the world's population lives on the costal fringe, which is just over 7 percent of the land.

2. from 77 people per square kilometer in 1990 to 115 in 2025.

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