How can poor drainage affect sea life? | Help & Advice | EDS

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How does it affect marine life?

Think of the issues that occur when the drains at home are continuously misused. When we force food down the drain, flush baby wipes down the toilet and let grease and oil from pans disappear down the plughole, we’re risking the cumulative effects of our misuse. So, if we increase the scale of these issues across the nation, continent or even worldwide, the significance of the threat to our marine life becomes apparent. There are 11,000 Combined Sewage and Stormwater Overflow drains that discharge waste into the UK’s rivers and seas, and their usage needs to be closely monitored.

These effects can range from slight pollution of water to actively contributing to the injury and even death of animals that come into contact with our pollutants.


Hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, is a common side effect of sewage pollution. Sewage that enters the water offers plenty of nutrients for bacteria, which increases their presence. Furthermore, plant and algae growth is encouraged by the presence of sewage – when these plants and algae die, they offer yet more organic matter for bacteria. When bacteria consumes this organic matter, they also consume dissolved oxygen from the water, denying other creatures and organisms access to it.

Habitat Impact

The innumerable ecosystems and habitats that exist within the various bodies of water around the world are delicate things, and unnatural changes to these habitats can be disastrous for the creatures within them. The aforementioned increased plant and algae growth that is caused by sewage pollution can reduce living space for animals that need open water to survive. Conversely, excess plants and algae means more places for prey to hide, which means their predators have less food available, another disruption to the food chain.

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How can I help?

Avoiding Drain Damage

The first line of defence against sewage pollution is correct use of drains. There are certain items and materials that should be kept away from our drains where possible – fats, oils, bits of food, disposable wipes, sanitary items – all of these things can cause issues within our pipes. They might disappear down the plughole, but they’ll cause problems further down the line – they’ll either block our drains or feed into our lakes and oceans. Although it’s difficult, if you take extra care to use your drains responsibly, you’re not only preventing drainage issues in your property, but doing your bit to lessen marine pollution.

Report pollution

It might be rare to catch someone in the act of polluting water, but if you do, there are steps you can take to hopefully minimise its impact. Firstly, you should contact the Environment Agency Pollution Hotline on 0800 80 70 60. The Environmental Agency must investigate all claims made to them. Detail is important when you report it: time, date (and a picture if possible).

The Environmental Agency will be able to determine the nature of the incident and what, if any action is required to remedy it and prevent future incidents occurring.

As well as the EA, there is also the SAS (Surfers Against Sewage). Contact them on 01872 555 950, and offer the same information that you have offered the EA. The more information they receive about pollution incidents, the easier it is for them to build up case files, which can offer a significant contribution towards site improvements.

You might think “what difference will it make if I take care of my drains?”, but if good practice is widely taken up, it can lead to a noticeable and measurable improvement in the condition of our lakes, rivers and seas.

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