ECOLOGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Over the years the oceans and their resources have become polluted by the dumping of industrial
and municipal waste and sewage. Over-use of insecticides and run-off into the rivers from agricultural use of pesticides and fertilizers has also polluted the water. Together with petroleum and chemical
spillage from shipwrecks and other industrial accidents these pollutants have contributed to the destruction of coastal ecology and have affected fish and sea birds.
By taking too many fish from the sea and preventing the replacement of stocks, over-fishing has brought some species to the edge of extinction. The effects of over-fishing are worst on those
animals such as whales which produce comparatively few offspring. In recent years endangered species for example, whales, have been protected by new international laws restricting the numbers that may be caught.
TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATIONS
Many of the world's most important industrial countries lie around the Atlantic coastline. Until the
invention of telecommunications and air transport every message, every person and every material that crossed the Atlantic had to travel by ship. The trade routes to and from America, Europe and
Africa carried thousands of cargo ships, passenger liners and naval vessels across the ocean.
By 1866 the first transatlantic telegraph cable was laid on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean between
Europe and North America. Today optical fibre cables have revolutionised global telecommunications with high quality transatlantic links.
EXTRACTION OF MINERALS
Salt was the first mineral to be used from the oceans. Other main minerals extracted from the oceans today are bromine and magnesium. The mineral resources of the oceans are still an unknown quantity. In the ocean off the East Coast of Florida there are minerals such as monazite,
titanium and off the coast of Africa, tin and other metal ores are found. Quantities of diamonds are scooped up from the sea bed of the Atlantic off the southern coast of Africa.
Gravel and sand is collected from the sea shore and the shallow coastal waters for use in the construction industry.
In the deepest part of the ocean, where the geological plates are moving apart, water passes down
into the molten core of the earth and returns heated and carrying minerals. These enriched waters support abundant life and the minerals they deposit may eventually be extracted for human use.
Below the sea bed, in the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, there are large amounts of petroleum and natural gas which can be extracted by drilling rigs. Smaller amounts of oil have been found off the coast of Africa.
ALTERNATIVE (RENEWABLE) SOURCES OF ENERGY
The oceans can provide three renewable sources of energy: the first relies on temperature differences; the other two on water movement.
The sea can be an energy source: it is the world's largest solar collector. The surface water can be more than twenty degrees centigrade warmer than the deeper waters. This warming goes on
continually. OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion) uses these temperature differences to generate electricity.
Different methods of using the movement of the waves as a power source have been tried. None
have moved from experimental versions to full scale production generating significant amounts of energy.
Tidal movement, on the other hand, has been harnessed on full scale generating systems. The
Rance system on the Atlantic coast of France is the most famous large scale generating plant. Gates close behind the incoming tidal waters at high tide, then as the tide falls and the water returns to the sea, it is channelled to drive electricity-generating turbines. (2000)
FISHERIES AND FOOD
The Atlantic Ocean contains the world's most productive fishing grounds. Most of the catch comes
from the continental shelf, where there is more food for fish, rather than from the deep ocean. Tuna are caught off the coast of North West Africa and off the coast of South America.
Millions of tons of fish are caught every year and millions of tons of seaweed are harvested. Thousands of whales and dolphins are also taken. Food from the sea is a good source of protein and
the oceans will be an important source of food in future years.
Around the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, people swim and surf and take part in other water sports.
Yacht races across the Atlantic have become very popular in recent years and people have even rowed across the ocean.
In addition to the fishing industry, the ocean also provides for sport fishing, both from the shore and from fishing boats.
Since the invention of the aqualung, diving has become a popular sport. In the warm waters of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico diving is a particularly important tourist attraction.