August 20, 2021

Where to Begin? New OSA Report Unpacks the Ocean Wastewater Problem

We are proud to announce the release of our first OSA report, "A Practitioner's Guide for Ocean Wastewater Pollution".

A collaborative effort among several of our partners, "A Practitioner's Guide for Ocean Wastewater Pollution" introduces the ocean wastewater problem to individuals new to this issue, especially marine conservationists and natural resource managers. It explains how wastewater pollution has serious repercussions on ecological health and human well-being, as well as its interactions with climate change. Not only does the guide build the case for action, it also explains the need for cross-sector collaboration, discusses the policy component, explores emerging technologies and solutions, identifies future needs in the solution space, and provides a crash course on sanitation.

Check out the report's Executive Summary below, or read the full report here!

Ocean wastewater pollution is serious, pervasive, and overlooked. Ignoring ocean wastewater pollution has consequences which threaten local and national economies, public health, fisheries, and coastal security, and can even amplify the impacts of climate change. Efforts to improve ocean health have most recently focused on establishing marine protected areas, improving fisheries management, and restoring coastal habitats. However, all this work is dependent on good water quality in order to succeed. By continuing to ignore the threat of ocean wastewater pollution, we put our past and future investments at risk. While there is significant interest from conservation practitioners to address this threat—because the problem has been neglected—there is minimal guidance on how to proceed. This report synthesizes what we know about the impacts of ocean wastewater pollution, provides a primer for those unfamiliar with management of human waste and the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector (WASH), and points to opportunities to address the threat so both people and oceans benefit.

The perfect treatment solution does not yet exist. There is no silver bullet or prescription for every place. We understand the problem, and, in most instances, we have the knowledge and technology to solve it. The greatest challenge is to foster better understanding and buy-in so that we can mobilize the public, industry, and government to take action to address this threat. Additionally, by employing solutions that treat human waste not as trash, but as a valuable resource, far greater benefits can be achieved than just eliminating wastewater pollution. The potential to provide energy, water, fertilizer, jobs, climate solutions, and opportunities for some of the poorest and most marginalized populations is substantial and makes the case for addressing this threat all the more compelling.

Meeting the challenge is, in essence, the reason this report was created. If you are someone working in ocean conservation and/or natural resource management, and if these are all new topics to you, then you are the audience for this document. This document is meant to be an overview for people unfamiliar with management of human waste and its impacts on marine environments and to help in becoming fluent in terminology around wastewater treatment and management. When addressing any aspect of sanitation and wastewater pollution, decision-makers need a reference to give them a fundamental understanding of the problem, the impacts, the solutions, and the individuals and entities that are major players in the world of ocean wastewater pollution.

Because this threat has been largely ignored, there are limited resources and guides available to help address these local problems. This report, and other associated resources, are aiming to change that. We outline a few of the initiatives and resources under development at the time of publication. We will update as needed.

The Our Shared Seas portal now has an Ocean Sewage Pollution Hub, that includes a primer, expert interviews, and research digests, and will continue to be updated. This resource focuses on donor and NGO audiences to educate and encourage engagement on important ocean health topics.

The Reef Resilience Network recently created a Wastewater Pollution Toolkit that presents resources and curriculum designed for a conservation practitioner audience. They currently host a webinar series on ocean sewage pollution and share information, including case studies and literature summaries. In the near feature, they will be sharing audience-specific topic briefs and an organization and project database. There also will be a web-based guide and supplemental resources for sanitation managers interested in using natural solutions, such as constructed wetlands. The Reef Resilience Network is currently working to develop a searchable directory to support organizations around a specific expertise or geography. Existing case studies can be found on their Case Studies site. Please contact us if you have a case study to share.

Finally, the Ocean Sewage Alliance officially launched in June 2021. The Alliance is a collaborative partnership of academic researchers and organizations from wide-ranging sectors, including conservation, WASH, technology, public health, and development. From this partnership, we expect collaboration around problem solving, fundraising, scientific research, project implementation, communications, and outreach. An awareness campaign was one of the first products of the Alliance, with implementation beginning in 2021 and continuing through 2022. The Ocean Sewage Alliance welcomes all parties interested in solving this difficult challenge using the most sustainable and beneficial methods possible. Please reach out to us at for more information.