Scientists propose global plan to save oceans for human health

Scientists propose global plan to save oceans for human health

An interdisciplinary European collaboration called the Seas Oceans and Public Health in Europe (SOPHIE) Project has put forward a global plan to save the oceans for the sake of human health.

The SOPHIE Project, led by the University of Exeter and funded by Horizons 2020, has outlined initial steps that organisations can take to protect the oceans, calling for the current ‘UN Ocean Decade’ to act as a meaningful catalyst for global change.

The paper, which has been published in the American Journal of Public Health, highlights 35 first steps for action by the likes of citizens, healthcare workers, private organisations, researchers, and policymakers.

Ocean health for human health

The impact of human activity on the oceans is severe, and extreme weather events induced by climate and other environmental change result in coastal flooding, exposure to harmful algal blooms, and chemical and microbial pollution – all of which are compounded by sea-level rise, ocean warming, acidification, and deoxygenation associated with global environmental change.

At the same time, the coasts, seas, and oceans provide us with food, trade, culture, renewable energy, and many other benefits. The researchers highlight that there is now strong evidence to suggest that access to healthy coasts can improve and preserve physical and mental health. And a healthy ocean is a major source of potential natural products including medicines and green substitutes for plastics.

First author Professor Lora Fleming, of the University of Exeter, said: “The devastating COVID-19 pandemic, climate, and other environmental change and the perilous state of our seas have made clear that we share a single planet with a single global ocean. Our moral compass points to addressing the myriad threats and potential opportunities we encounter by protecting and providing for everyone, both rich and poor, while learning to sustain all ecosystems.”

Steps towards healthier oceans and people

The paper emphasises that collaboration is vital in efforts to preserve ocean health. Some of the steps recommended in the paper include:

  • Large businesses can review their impact on ocean health, share best practice and support community initiatives
  • Healthcare professionals could consider “blue prescriptions,” integrated with individual and community promotion activities
  • Tourism operators can share research on the benefits of spending time by the coast on wellbeing, and collect and share their customers’ experiences of these benefits
  • Individual citizens can take part in ocean-based citizen science or beach cleans and encourage school projects on sustainability
  • The paper calls on planners, policymakers, and organisations to understand and share research into the links between ocean and human health, and to integrate this knowledge into policy

Co-author Professor Sheila JJ Heymans, of the European Marine Board, said: “The UN Ocean Decade is a chance to truly transform the way we interact with the global ocean. Given how critical the link is between the health of people and the health of the ocean and how important the ocean is for humans, achieving the aims of the Ocean Decade should not be left to just the ocean community. By working together with communities, policy makers, business, and other stakeholders, we add impetus to finding powerful, effective, new ways to foster a step change in public health.”

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