Clean Oceans Begin With Clean Rivers

The relation between rivers and oceans is such that we cannot talk about cleaning oceans without first talking about cleaning rivers. This is because all sorts of pollutants are dumped into rivers and whatever is dumped in rivers is carried to the sea.

Once the rivers’ load is carried into the seas, it is just a matter of time before its getting carried by the gyres of oceans to their centers. Thus, patches of polluted areas are formed in the oceans. The pollutants thus being concentrated in these areas not only affect the surface of those areas but also go deeper than that right to the bottom of the oceans.

This indicates the extent of damage that pollution carried through rivers is capable of wreaking on oceans.

The Ways in Which Rivers Get Polluted

Having seen how polluted rivers reach to their logical conclusion, now it is time to consider the ways in which rivers get polluted.

If you stay near any riverside, it is not very difficult to know how a river gets polluted. You see it right before your eyes. There are municipalities of big cities which are challenged by the problem of where to drain the sewage that is produced on daily basis.

Similarly, there is the question of garbage. Heaps and heaps of it gather every day. Where to dump it? Then, there are the owners of factories of all kinds who are faced by the problem of where to drain the toxic chemical waste that is produced in those factories.

Even the fishers, whose very life depends on rivers, face the problem of where to dispose off the fishing equipment that becomes useless. They all find the answer to their problems in a river. They dump everything in it and be light of their burden. Even the carcasses of dead animals are dumped there!

The kinds of pollutants that we find in the rivers are

  • Mercury
  • Lead
  • Cadmium
  • Zink
  • Chromium
  • Manganese
  • Cobalt
  • Nickel
  • Antimony
  • Thallium
  • Various aldehydes
  • Various acids
  • Caustic soda
  • Sulphur
  • Nitrogen & many more

In general, these pollutants, when they get mixed up in river waters, either they turn them into excessively alkaline or acidic. Some of the pollutants include heavy metals and heavy oils. These too are not easily degradable. Here, it needs to be noted that the heavy metals cannot be carried to the oceans but they surely tend to pollute the river waters. And these polluted river waters do flow into the oceans.

As we are talking about the metallic pollution, we must take into consideration the derelict vessels that ultimately go down to the ocean floor. These do have serious implications for ocean ecology.

As for heavy oils, they ARE capable of being carried to the oceans through rivers. Other major sources include

  • Discharges from land-based sources
  • Operational & maintenance-related discharges from ships
  • Spills &
  • Natural production from ocean beds

Returning to the river pollution, among the pollutants which are not biodegradable, the most prominent consists of plastic. It does not degrade for decades. So the effects of this type of pollution last for a long, long time.

Some of the pollutants seriously deplete the oxygen levels of the rivers. When this happens, the quality of the river waters suffer considerably…terribly. And when this bad quality water flows into the ocean, it produces significant effects on oceanic waters as well.

By the way, we must not forget that before the polluted rivers reach the oceans and adversely affect them, they will first and foremost impact the peoples that depends on them for

  • Washing and drinking water
  • Livelihood
  • Agriculture
  • Animal husbandry
  • Tourism
  • Ecosystem &
  • Industry

Of all these dependencies, the most important one is that of drinking water. Once polluted, it is out of question that their water remains drinkable. What should concern us is that their waters also pollute the groundwater. In so many places they don’t have clear groundwater. They have colored groundwater which is a sign of its being chemically polluted.

According to one report, world over approximately 2.5 billion people heavily rely on the groundwater for their basic needs. What happens if the groundwater gets polluted? Well, the damage is almost irreparable.


Herein lies the real problem? It is a fact that those who pollute the rivers know what they are doing and what are the consequences of their actions.

In spite of knowing this, they indulge in such destructive actions. This is because they seek immediate, though temporary, solutions to their own problem – the problem of disposing off the waste they produce; they neither think nor care for what is in the offing.

They think that they themselves are not going to face the direct consequences of their actions. Let them decide what to do with this headache who are directly affected by it. Also, they think that the consequences of their actions lie at a safe distance in time from them.

This was talking about the actions of common people. The governments that represent them are equally accountable for polluting the rivers. They have their Ministry of Environment and also legislation pertaining to preservation of environment. They do have laws regarding pollution control but they do not implement upon them strictly.

Wherever there is this problem, there is an outcry against the government from environment-conscious people. They keep on insisting that the polluted waters from various sources should be treated properly before being released into the rivers. But largely their cries fall on deaf ears.

In the same way, there are people fighting against plastic pollution, demanding restricting its use. Sometimes the authorities in power do make a show of working against it; but very often they don’t even bother about it.

It may be that the governments are crippled by the population of their countries which put severe burden on the natural resources as well as throw up formidable challenge to create jobs and boost their economic growth. For the sake of their economy they allow industrialists to have their way. Just like the job seekers, the governments also need them to flourish.

There is also another problem with governments. They have proved themselves to be failures in providing sound administration. This failure is reflected in the lack of proper infrastructure for disposing off various sources of pollution. When this infrastructure is lacking, the people have no other option left to them except dump their waste wherever they find a place for it.

We read in the history that great civilizations of the world were born on the banks of great rivers. The reasons for this we have already discussed at length. The difference between now and then is that in past the industries that existed did not pollute rivers. And in several ways those civilizations were better off than ours.

The most important respect in which they were better than the modern and post-modern civilization is that the civilizations of the past relied on nature and at the same time were supportive of nature. It preserved the ecosystem. At least, in this we should look back for inspiration. Otherwise we shall deprive ourselves of our rivers.

The implication is that if the rivers were responsible for bringing about the great civilizations of the past, their lack may bring down the illusive civilization that we, the modern and post-modern humanity, has built for ourselves.

All is Not Lost Yet

Yes, there is still hope left for us provided we shake off sleep and awake to new wisdom and knowledge and understanding to seek and find and implement sustainable solution for this grim situation. Let us bend our innovations and inventions to that end.

One good example is provided by the Ocean Cleanup through its innovation called the Interceptor. It is designed to remove plastic waste from rivers so that it does not end up in our oceans. It is rightly called ‘scalable’ solution. Its efficacy is already proven. This automatic machine runs out and out on solar energy and can be used anywhere in the world with equal efficiency.

The Instances of Reclaimed Rivers

These prove what we can accomplish if only we set our will on it.

River Thames

River Thames was as polluted in the 19th century as any polluted river that we now see. By mid 20th century it literally died! This is because it lacked the level of oxygen that was necessary for life. This was the result of draining untreated sewage water into the river. The credit should be given to the government of the time that it improved the infrastructure for sewage disposal. Moreover, it not only put in place a law but also strictly implemented it to stop draining industrial waste and raw sewage into the river and its tributaries. As a result, the Thames revived again. And with the river, its ecosystem also came alive.

River Rhine

Largest river in Europe, Rhine covered as many six nations of the continent. The same nations also contributed in its pollution. The situation altered for good in 1986 when a blast occurred in chemical plant near Basel in Switzerland. The toxic pesticides it contained contaminated the river waters and damaged its ecosystem and public health in general to such an extent that immediately International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine was set up, a program was prepared and implemented upon. That’s how the river was fully reclaimed in 1993.

There are also other instances of river-clean-up success. But the two examples are deemed enough for the purpose of establishing the point that if a government wills it, it can make or break laws. In the above mentioned instances, the governments decided upon making and implementing upon laws. That motivated the people as well.

To sum up, the way to clean up our oceans passes through the rivers clean-up process. If we fail in keeping our rivers clean, we cannot help our oceans keep alive. The possible consequences of dead oceans are unimaginable. The whole scenario presents to us apocalyptic vision of the world.