Marine Pollution

Our research focuses on the distribution, intensity and impact of contaminants from human activities, such as hydrocarbons, sound propagation, waste discharge, plastics, and aquaculture run-off. We develop innovative solutions to mitigate their impacts on marine and coastal ecosystems and collaborate with industry, governments, international agencies, and NGOs to implement effective management strategies for cleaner and healthier marine ecosystems.

This domain addresses the distribution and intensity of contaminants released by many human activities, the pressures these cause on the environment, the impacts they have on marine species, communities, economies, human health and well-being and the potential mitigation of these impacts.

The portfolio is foundational to supporting sustainability in a rapidly growing and diversifying national and international Blue Economy and it spans domestic and international waters, taxa, habitats and biota. It includes understanding the distribution, intensity and impacts from domestic and international activities such as shipping, including the discharge of waste, sound propagation and direct impacts through ship strike incidents, hydrocarbons and oil & gas (including produced formation water), as well as anthropogenic waste from land and sea-based activities, including plastics and nutrient run-off from aquaculture.

Environmental Effects of Seismic Noise

Seismic surveys occur as part of oil and gas exploration, with underwater sound waves produced by equipment towed behind a survey vessel penetrating the seafloor.  Reflected sound waves reveal sub-seafloor structures that may indicate oil and gas deposits. Impacts on marine life have been reported, but consensus regarding effects is absent, due to variation in experimental conditions, the responses considered in individuals, the different life stages of species considered, and time periods for effects to emerge. We are using our expertise in fisheries and ecology, experimental design, and acoustics to investigate effects on marine species.

Environmental Effects of Decommissioning Oil and Gas Infrastructure

Decommissioning of offshore infrastructure is becoming an increasing issue in Australia and globally as more facilities come to the end of their productive lives. Infrastructure is required to be fully removed unless industry can demonstrate that the impacts and risk of other options, such as leaving infrastructure in situ, are acceptable and ALARP. In order to demonstrate this, industry requires information regarding impacts of decommissioning options, as well as information regarding alternative technologies to enable different decommissioning options to be considered feasible.

Understanding Sources, Distribution, Impacts and Policy Responses to Plastic Pollution

Plastic pollution is a globally recognised environmental issue of increasing concern, with impacts on people, communities, economies and the environment.  

Plastic pollution comes from both land and sea-based sources and can travel immense distances. It can pose a navigation hazard, smother coral reefs, transport invasive species and negatively affect tourism. It also injures and kills wildlife, has the potential to transport chemical contaminants, and may pose a threat to human health.

CSIRO conducts world-leading, award-winning, research into the sources, distribution and fate of plastic pollution. We take a risk based approach to evaluate the risk to threatened and endangered species and processes, for ingestion, entanglement and chemical contamination. Our team works with partnering organizations across numerous projects, identifying problem items and collaborating for potential solutions. Our partners include DCCEEW, United Nations, DFAT, and dozens of universities, non-government organisations, and partners around the world.

Related Research

Other Resources

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Can the rigs of today become the reefs of tomorrow?  Read the June 2020 ECOS story, and see below how CSIRO is working with industry partners to explore the future of our oil and gas infrastructure.


Oil Spill Monitoring Handbook  (Edited by: Sharon Hook, Graeme Batley, Michael Holloway, Paul Irving, Andrew Ross)

Provides practical advice on what information is likely required following the accidental release of oil or other petroleum-based products into the marine environment.

The Marine Litter Monitoring Methods Handbook provides information to participants in COBSEA participating countries about the different monitoring approaches that are taken in international marine litter monitoring programs.

Key Contact

Dr Britta Denise Hardesty

Senior Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO Environment