Anthropogenic pollution of aquatic ecosystems: Emerging problems with global implications

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Apr 15:713:136586. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.136586. Epub 2020 Jan 9.


Aquatic ecosystems cover over two thirds of our planet and play a pivotal role in stabilizing the global climate as well as providing a large array of services for a fast-growing human population. However, anthropogenic activities increasingly provoke deleterious impacts in aquatic ecosystems. In this paper we discuss five sources of anthropogenic pollution that affect marine and freshwater ecosystems: sewage, nutrients and terrigenous materials, crude oil, heavy metals and plastics. Using specific locations as examples, we show that land-based anthropogenic activities have repercussions in freshwater and marine environments, and we detail the direct and indirect effects that these pollutants have on a range of aquatic organisms, even when the pollutant source is distant from the sink. While the issues covered here do focus on specific locations, they exemplify emerging problems that are increasingly common around the world. All these issues are in dire need of stricter environmental policies and legislations particularly for pollution at industrial levels, as well as solutions to mitigate the effects of anthropogenic pollutants and restore the important services provided by aquatic ecosystems for future generations.

Keywords: Eutrophication; Heavy metal pollution; Nutrients; Oil spill; Plastic debris; Sewage discharge; Terrigenous material.

Publication types

  • Review