How Swimming in a Polluted Ocean Affects You


Ocean pollution is a serious environmental concern and it is estimated that there are 150 million metric tons of plastics that are currently in marine areas. The impact of ocean pollution is diverse affecting not only marine life such as animals and plants, but also human activities. One of these activities is swimming, a fun and enjoyable way to stay fit. Sadly, swimming in the ocean polluted with trash and plastics is not pleasurable and can even become dangerous.

Polluted Waters Affect the Health

Swimming is a life skill that everyone should learn. It can save yourself and others from drowning which is the 3rd cause of unintentional injury according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Even older adults who have not swum before can benefit from swimming. Start by getting a swim coach who will introduce you to the water and build up your confidence in swimming. The non-weight bearing exercise builds and tone muscles, improves endurance, and enhances overall cardiovascular fitness.

However, swimming in polluted waters can offset the health benefits of the exercise. The ocean is estimated by experts to contain 6 times more micro-plastics than plankton. Polluted waters can make swimmers sick because of the presence of pathogens that can cause stomach flu, respiratory infections, skin rashes, and hepatitis. The good news is there are several ways to combat ocean pollution. Simple yet effective lifestyle changes such as avoidance of single use plastics and proper disposal of hazardous and non-biodegradable materials can contribute to cleaner water. Participating in beach or river cleanups and supporting bans also help.

Contaminated Water is a Safety Hazard

It’s not only the health of swimmers that is affected by fouled water. Swimming in an ocean that is contaminated can also affect the safety of swimmers. The ocean’s water is not only tainted with pathogens, but is also filled with debris from plastics, nets, and other trash discarded intentionally or unintentionally. These can become safety hazards for both marine animals and humans.

Marine debris is already getting ingested by animals and it is estimated that one sea mammal or bird dies every 30 seconds because of plastic pollution according to Surfers Against Sewage. Humans are also victims of marine litter. Imagine getting tangled with a trawler’s net or injuring yourself with a fishing hook that is embedded in the ocean floor. In addition, although you don’t see the big pieces of litter on the surface because they have broken down into microplastics and microfibers, they are present in the water and can be easily ingested causing injuries.

Ocean Pollution Has Economic Implications

In addition to health and safety concerns, ocean pollution also threatens livelihoods and businesses. In one study, researchers calculated that a typical swimming day costs around $35 per individual. Loss of beach visitors due to polluted waters and closures can result to significant revenue damage. Furthermore, the health costs associated with water contamination also leads to medical bills, lost workdays, and low productivity.

Swimming in the ocean is a great aerobic workout that offers physical and mental health benefits. However, polluted waters can affect the health and safety of swimmers in addition to the economic costs.

Guest post by Sara Zipf

About Author

Production engineer and certified swim coach. Full-time IT consultant, spare-time swimming aficionado. 2 sons, 2 daughters and a wife. President of the Faroe Islands Swimming Association. Likes to run :-)

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