What does the ocean have to do with human health?

The ocean is closely tied to human health.

Our ocean and coasts affect us all—even those of us who don't live near the shoreline. Consider the economy. Through the fishing and boating industry, tourism and recreation, and ocean transport, one in six U.S. jobs is marine-related. Coastal and marine waters support over 28 million jobs. U.S. consumers spend over $55 billion annually for fishery products. Then there's travel and tourism. Our beaches are a top destination, attracting about 90 million people a year. Our coastal areas generate 85 percent of all U.S. tourism revenues. And let's not forget about the Great Lakes—these vast bodies of water supply more than 40 million people with drinking water. Our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes serve other critical needs, too—needs that are harder to measure, but no less important—such as climate regulation, nutrient recycling, and maritime heritage. Last but not least, a healthy ocean and coasts provide us with resources we rely on every day, ranging from food, to medicines, to compounds that make our peanut butter easier to spread! So what does all of this have to do with human health?

Ocean in Distress

When we think of public health risks, we may not think of the ocean as a factor. But increasingly, the health of the ocean is intimately tied to our health. One sign of an ocean in distress is an increase in beach or shellfish harvesting closures across the nation. Intensive use of our ocean and runoff from land-based pollution sources are just two of many factors that stress our fragile ecosystems—and increasingly lead to human health concerns. Waterborne infectious diseases, harmful algal bloom toxins, contaminated seafood, and chemical pollutants are other signals. Just as we can threaten the health of our ocean, so, too, can our ocean threaten our health. And it is not public health alone that may be threatened; our coastal economies, too, could be at significant risk.