The Marine Biologist magazine features articles drawn from the scientific literature, including the JMBA. Fiona McGowan introduces the JMBA special edition on Oceans and Human Health.
Marine Biology is undergoing a ‘sea change’ in its outlook and approach. Driven by the need for us all to think more about the impact of our work and its relevance to the wider public, the marine sciences are now embracing ideas and establishing closer collaborative links with the Social Sciences – including economics and the law – and the public health communities. Until recently the primary focus within these latter areas has been on the negative impacts of the oceans and seas on human health – such as extreme weather events, shellfish poisoning and drowning. Conversely, in the marine biology/marine science community attention has traditionally been directed to the many benefits for example, healthy foods and novel drugs as well as some negative environmental impacts (e.g. red tides) Now, there is increasing recognition that all interactions both global and local between humans and the oceans can have benefits and risks and that the health of our seas and oceans is inextricably linked to human health and wellbeing. For example, our marine ecosystems are being destroyed through pollution and unsustainable development, which threatens important potential health-related discoveries, novel drugs, and foodstuffs.
While most of these interactions can be quantified, those surrounding human health and wellbeing need to be explored using qualitative research methods if we are to truly understand the scope of their short and long term impacts. For example, how can we measure the potentially positive benefits that result from interaction with the coasts and the blue environment? Since the Eighteenth century, taking the waters was considered to be health promoting and this contributed to the growth of the medical ‘thallasotherapy’ approach and industry. Now, in the 21st Century, we are seeing the emergence of terms such as the “Blue gym”, coined to describe the sometimes indefinable, or at least difficult to quantify, mental and physical health benefits obtained from experiencing proximity to the coastal environments.
Supporting this vision, an increasing number of disparate groups are realizing that they too are stakeholders in oceans and human health. This includes residents of rapidly growing coastal cities, the increasing numbers of visitors to seaside locations around the globe and the resulting growth of businesses that serve them such as tourism, aquaculture and fisheries, pharmaceuticals, transport, energy sectors, non-governmental organizations (e.g. Ocean Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Surfrider Foundation, Pew Foundation. The interests of commerce, the wider public, professional bodies, diverse academic disciplines are now converging to develop the field of ‘Oceans and Human Health’. This new and exciting interdisciplinary theme is celebrated in the latest issue of the JMBA which is freely available for a short time.