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What is oil pollution? What are its impacts on the marine ecosystem? In what way is oil pollution particularly harmful for a country like India?

Q8. What is oil pollution? What are its impacts on the marine ecosystem? In what way is oil pollution particularly harmful for a country like India? (10m) – Environment & DM


Oil pollution occurs when the liquid form of petroleum leaks into an ecosystem, especially the marine ecosystem, due to anthropogenic causes. Oil pollution is typically caused by oil spills, industrial activities, etc.


Impacts of oil pollution on marine ecosystem

  1. Damage to coral reefs:  coral reefs are a sensitive ecosystem, oil spills can smother and kill coral polyps. Eg. mauritius oil spill 2020 (mauritius declared environmental emergency)
  2. Habitat destruction: oil pollution damages and destroys important coastal habitats such as mangroves, estuaries and salt marshes. These habitats serve as a nursery and breeding ground for many organisms. Eg. sunderbans threatened by multiple oil spills over years.
  3. Degrades insulating properties of birds: oil coating reduces their ability to insulate themselves and stay buoyant. This can lead to hypothermia and drowning.
  4. Disruption of food chains: oil pollution harms planktons and algae which forms the base of marine food chains. This disruption can have a cascading effect on large predators, leading to population decline.
  5. Contaminated marine products: oil spills contaminates marine products like fishes etc and makes them unsafe for human consumption thus having serious health consequences for communities relying on sea food. Eg. 2021 oil spill in red sea (sea food contamination)
  6. Other impacts- Reduces amount of dissolved oxygen in water, chokes the respiratory system of marine animals, reduces sunlight penetration etc.

Oil pollution is particularly harmful for a country like India due to following reasons: 

  • Extensive coastline: India has a vast coastline of about 7517 km making it highly susceptible to oil pollution incidents. The Indian coastline serves as a conduit for over 70% of the global oil demand.
  • High marine activity: due to its strategic location in the Indian ocean, India witnesses high marine activity making it highly vulnerable to oil spills.
  • Ecosystem diversity: India’s marine ecosystem is incredibly diverse, with a wide variety of species inhabiting its coastal areas (E.g. Western Coast). 
  • Economic dependence: Oil pollution threatens the livelihoods and industries, including fishing, tourism etc, potentially leading to economic distress in affected regions.
      • E.g. In India, the Goa oil spill in 2010 had adverse effects on the state’s tourism industry
  • Monsoon and cyclones exacerbate the impacts of oil spills, making containment and cleanup efforts more challenging.


It is imperative for India to have robust preventive measures, emergency response plans and stringent regulations to mitigate risks associated with oil spills. Various technological measures (Magnetic soap, autonomous robots, ultra-absorbent sponges and waste human hairs) can be employed for post-oil spill mitigation.


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