The text on this site is presented as an archival version of the script of "Ocean Planet," a 1995 Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition. The content reflects the state of knowledge at the time of the exhibition, and has not been updated.
Around the world, untreated sewage flows into coastal waters, carrying organic waste and nutrients that can lead to oxygen depletion, as well as disease-causing bacteria and parasites that require closing beaches and shellfish beds §.
As human population grows, so will the volume of raw sewage pouring into the oceans.
Much untreated sewage enters waterways when rainstorms overload combined storm-water and sewage systems §. In the U.S., frequent sewer overflows restrict shellfish harvests and close beaches § §.
No Systems At All
Most developing countries lack sewage collection and treatment facilities §, but some developed countries also release untreated sewage. Sewage contamination has led to outbreaks of hepatitis A and cholera throughout the world §.
Sewage spills onto a North Sea beach, Hartlepool, England Every day in the early 1990s, 300 million gallons of sewage entered British coastal waters, most of it untreated § §.
photo © Simon Fraser/Photo Researchers, Inc.
Surfers Against Sewage publicizes health risks from polluted
This is dried toilet paper on the beach in Troon, Scotland.
photo © Surfers Against Sewage
Fish kill caused by nutrient build-up,
Nanticoke River, Chesapeake Bay, 1992
photo © David W. Harp
Golden Gate warning sign
photo © Jeff Foott
Wildwood, NJ beach closing sign
photo © Michael Baytoff
Shellfish bed closing sign
photo © Bruce Wodder/The Image Bank
Arcata, California, created marshes where there was once a county dump and got fringe benefits. The marshes filter partially treated sewage; the water that flows through them into Humboldt Bay is cleaner than bay water. The marshes also support other wetlands and oyster beds in the bay, and provide habitats for thousands of animals. § §
Marshes, the final filters in waste-water treatment
photo © Ted Streshinsky
Blue Plains Sewage Treatment Plant
photo © Hedrich-Blessing
The Clean Water Act provided the regulatory tools and financing to build this state-of-the-art plant that treats more than 300 million gallons of sewage per day. Along with a ban on phosphate detergents, the plant has helped to drastically cut the level of phosphorus entering the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. §
Water Quality Curricula from the Cooperative Extension Service.
Ocean Planet Exhibition Floorplan
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