The integrated study of ocean health and human health is an emerging area of increasing global importance. Growing evidences demonstrate that the health of the ocean and the health of humans have always been and will continue to be, inextricably linked. Our actions toward the oceans will significantly influence the future of the whole planet and, in turn, our own health. The current review of these issues arose from a summer school in San Sebastian (Spain), from 5th to 7th June, 2019. An interdisciplinary group of researchers discussed key risks (e.g., microbial pollution, pharmaceuticals, harmful algal blooms, plastic pollution) and benefits (e.g., bathing waters, recreation, tourism) of the seas and global ocean for humanity; and debated the future priorities and potential actions for a joint Oceans and Human Health research and governance programme in Europe. The aim of this review is to contribute to the emerging scientific agenda on ocean health and human health, as well as coordinate efforts with stakeholders, policy makers and the general public. This agenda operates within the larger context of the upcoming United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development: 2021–2030, which strives to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), including healthy (human) lives and well-being (SDG3) and conserving and sustainably using the oceans (SDG14), among others. In addition to summarizing some of the key risks and benefits, therefore, we describe the governance of oceans and health interactions (especially in Europe), and we finish by proposing a list of elements for potential future research priorities on oceans and human health.
Food for Thought
On 1 March 2019, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly (New York) declared 2021–2030 the “UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.” This call to action has the purpose of recognizing the need to massively accelerate global restoration of degraded ecosystems, to fight the climate heating crisis, enhance food security, provide clean water and protect biodiversity on the planet. The scale of restoration will be key; for example, the Bonn Challenge has the goal to restore 350 million km2 (almost the size of India) of degraded terrestrial ecosystems by 2030. However, international support for restoration of “blue” coastal ecosystems, which provide an impressive array of benefits to people, has lagged. Only the Global Mangrove Alliance (https://mangrovealliance.org/) comes close to the Bonn Challenge, with the aim of increasing the global area of mangroves by 20% by 2030. However, mangrove scientists have reservations about this target, voicing concerns that it is unrealistic and may prompt inappropriate practices in attempting to reach this target (Lee et al., 2019). The decade of ecosystem restoration declaration also coincides with the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which aims to reverse deterioration in ocean health. If executed in a holistic and coordinated manner, signatory nations could stand to deliver on both these UN calls to action.
Over the last 50 years, non-state actors, particularly environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), have taken on increasingly important roles in environmental governance. These roles have strengthened capacity in policy development and enhanced connections between decision makers and the public. How environmental NGOs navigate the tension between maintaining independence from government while also influencing decisions within political systems is not well understood. A change in the government of Canada following the 2015 national election provided an opportunity to explore the dynamic relationships between ENGOs and government. The government enlisted the assistance of ENGOs to achieve the 2020 national marine protection targets. In this study, the activities of two ENGOs—WWF-Canada (a national NGO) and the Ecology Action Centre (a local NGO)—regarding planning for three marine protected areas (MPAs) were studied. The objective of this research was to increase understanding of the role of ENGOs in decision making regarding MPAs, particularly focusing on how ENGOs use information in formal and informal processes to fulfil their mandates to promote marine conservation. Data were obtained from interviews; observations of formal and informal meetings and conversations; content analysis of email exchanges of the ENGOs with government staff, other ENGOs and numerous stakeholders; and review of key publications and public research reports. The results demonstrate the significant role of ENGOs in conservation governance and the major strategies that they use in deploying information at the science-policy interface. The ENGOs operate in an important boundary-spanning role using four types of action (hard advocacy, soft advocacy, gathering information and intelligence, and administration) and their interactions with diverse stakeholders. The ENGOs bridged interactions between government and stakeholders and transmitted scientific data and information, generated by researchers, to decision makers. The boundary-spanning activities of the ENGOs uniquely positions them in conservation decision processes. The ability to be flexible means that ENGOs can adapt their strategies to advance conservation policy and practice.
Effective management of marine systems requires quantitative tools that can assess the state of the marine social-ecological system and are responsive to management actions and pressures. We applied the Ocean Health Index (OHI) framework to retrospectively assess ocean health in British Columbia annually from 2001 to 2016 for eight goals that represent the values of British Columbia’s coastal communities. We found overall ocean health improved over the study period, from 75 (out of 100) in 2001 to 83 in 2016, with scores for inhabited regions ranging from 68 (North Coast, 2002) to 87 (West Vancouver Island, 2011). Highest-scoring goals were Tourism & Recreation (average 94 over the period) and Habitat Services (100); lowest-scoring goals were Sense of Place (61) and Food Provision (64). Significant increases in scores over the time period occurred for Food Provision (+1.7 per year), Sense of Place (+1.4 per year), and Coastal Livelihoods (+0.6 per year), while Habitat Services (-0.01 per year) and Biodiversity (-0.09 per year) showed modest but statistically significant declines. From the results of our time-series analysis, we used the OHI framework to evaluate impacts of a range of management actions. Despite challenges in data availability, we found evidence for the ability of management to reduce pressures on several goals, suggesting the potential of OHI as a tool for assessing the effectiveness of marine resource management to improve ocean health. Our OHI assessment provides an important comprehensive evaluation of ocean health in British Columbia, and our open and transparent process highlights opportunities for improving accessibility of social and ecological data to inform future assessment and management of ocean health.
Understanding the distribution of life’s variety has driven naturalists and scientists for centuries, yet this has been constrained both by the available data and the models needed for their analysis. Here we compiled data for over 67,000 marine and terrestrial species and used artificial neural networks to model species richness with the state and variability of climate, productivity, and multiple other environmental variables. We find terrestrial diversity is better predicted by the available environmental drivers than is marine diversity, and that marine diversity can be predicted with a smaller set of variables. Ecological mechanisms such as geographic isolation and structural complexity appear to explain model residuals and also identify regions and processes that deserve further attention at the global scale. Improving estimates of the relationships between the patterns of global biodiversity, and the environmental mechanisms that support them, should help in efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change and provide guidance for adapting to life in the Anthropocene.
While there is a growing understanding of theimportance of marine ecosystems for society (Selig et al., 2019), evidence shows that pressures from human activities on these ecosystems are increasing (Korpinen and Andersen, 2016; Lotze et al., 2018), putting the health of marine ecosystems at risk worldwide (Borja et al., 2016). In particular, Sustainable Blue Economy ambitions are becoming an important component of national socio-economic development strategies (e.g., this is called Blue Growth in Europe; Eikeset et al., 2018). This can result in increasing pressures on marine and coastal ecosystems if this development is not designed and implemented with care. Thus, despite current regulatory framework across the globe (illustrated inter alia by the Oceans Act in the USA or Canada and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive in Europe; Borja et al., 2008), it is likely that this challenging situation will continue into the future (Golden et al., 2017).
Does humanity's future lie in the ocean? As demand for resources continues to grow and land-based sources decline, expectations for the ocean as an engine of human development are increasing. Claiming marine resources and space is not new to humanity, but the extent, intensity, and diversity of today's aspirations are unprecedented. We describe this as the blue acceleration—a race among diverse and often competing interests for ocean food, material, and space. Exploring what this new reality means for the global ocean and how to steer it in a sustainable and equitable way represents an urgent challenge.
With oceans under increasing pressure from human activities, sustainable development and conservation efforts are working to set meaningful targets for healthy oceans. Determining whether those targets are achieved requires indicators that measure status and progress. Here, I reflect upon lessons learned from a decade of developing and calculating the Ocean Health Index.
Using a common experimental framework, this paper addresses both the question of the short-term and the long-lasting effects of temporary monetary and non-monetary incentive mechanisms on increasing individual contributions to the public good. The results show that both punishments and rewards significantly increase contributions compared to the baseline, but that monetary sanctions lead to the highest contributions, whereas non-monetary sanctions lead to the lowest contributions. The four types of incentives display long-lasting effects, i.e., contributions do not go back to baseline levels directly after the withdrawal of the incentives. However, rewards appear to have much stronger persistent effects than sanctions, revealing some sort of delayed reciprocity.
Marine megafauna has always elicited contrasting feelings. In the past, large marine animals were often depicted as fantastic mythological creatures and dangerous monsters, while also arousing human curiosity. Marine megafauna has been a valuable resource to exploit, leading to the collapse of populations and local extinctions. In addition, some species have been perceived as competitors of fishers for marine resources and were often actively culled. Since the 1970s, there has been a change in the perception and use of megafauna. The growth of marine tourism, increasingly oriented towards the observation of wildlife, has driven a shift from extractive to non-extractive use, supporting the conservation of at least some species of marine megafauna. In this paper, we review and compare the changes in the perception and use of three megafaunal groups, cetaceans, elasmobranchs and groupers, with a special focus on European cultures. We highlight the main drivers and the timing of these changes, compare different taxonomic groups and species, and highlight the implications for management and conservation. One of the main drivers of the shift in perception, shared by all the three groups of megafauna, has been a general increase in curiosity towards wildlife, stimulated inter alia by documentaries (from the early 1970s onwards), and also promoted by easy access to scuba diving. At the same time, environmental campaigns have been developed to raise public awareness regarding marine wildlife, especially cetaceans, a process greatly facilitated by the rise of Internet and the World Wide Web. Currently, all the three groups (cetaceans, elasmobranchs and groupers) may represent valuable resources for ecotourism. Strikingly, the economic value of live specimens may exceed their value for human consumption. A further change in perception involving all the three groups is related to a growing understanding and appreciation of their key ecological role. The shift from extractive to non-extractive use has the potential for promoting species conservation and local economic growth. However, the change in use may not benefit the original stakeholders (e.g. fishers or whalers) and there may therefore be a case for providing compensation for disadvantaged stakeholders. Moreover, it is increasingly clear that even non-extractive use may have a negative impact on marine megafauna, therefore regulations are needed.