Pollution may adversely affect the health of our seas and ultimately limit our ability, and that of future generations, to use the seas as a sustainable resource. The Marine Institute carries out monitoring and research to assess the extent and impacts of pollution and to determine environmental trends.
Three groups of chemical pollutants are of concern for the marine environment: nutrients, hazardous substances and radionucliides. The Marine Institute carries out monitoring and research in relation to two of these:
What Pollutants are of Concern for the Marine Environment?
1. Nutrients, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus (N & P): These nutrients are essential for the primary productivity of our seas. In some areas excessive inputs of nutrients arising from human activities may cause accelerated algal growth and lead to undesirable disturbance of the ecosystem. This is referred to as Eutrophication.
2. Hazardous Substances : These substances are of concern due to their environmental persistence (resistance to degradation), toxicity and liability to bioaccumulate, i.e. accumulation in the tissue of organisms. Some, for example, trace metals occur naturally as well as from human activities. Others are manmade and only found as a result of human activities. Examples of the latter are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), the pesticide DDT, and tributyltin (TBT - an antifoulant used in marine paints). The use of many hazardous substances in Europe is controlled or banned.
Marine Environmental Protection
There are many national and international (European and global) instruments and conventions designed to protect the marine environment from pollution. Of particular relevance to Ireland is EU law and also the 1992 OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic. OSPAR provides a framework in which the riparian states of the NE Atlantic work together to protect the marine environment from adverse effects of human activities and to conserve marine ecosystems.
Monitoring and Assessment:
Monitoring and assessment of marine environmental quality is implemented to comply with various EU directives and also in accordance with OSPAR’s Joint Assessment and Monitoring Programme.
Specific Marine Institute programmes include:
- Monitoring of contaminants to support protection of shellfish growing areas
- Monitoring trends and concentrations of winter nutrient levels in the Irish and Celtic Seas
- Monitoring of levels, temporal trends and effects of hazardous substances in the Irish marine environment
The Marine Institute also prepare and submit national annual reports to OSPAR on:
- Use and discharge of chemicals in the offshore sector
- Waste dumped at sea, e.g. dredge material
More information on monitoring of environmental contaminants in seafood can be found in the Seafood Safety section of the website. Monitoring data is reported to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) database for subsequent regional assessments by OSPAR and the European Environment Agency.
For more information in relation to permitting activities such as discharge of chemicals from offshore installations or disposal of dredged sediment at sea visit our advisory services page.
More information on past and current environmental chemistry collaborative projects can be found in the Research and Development Section of the website.