We review the major linkages between the oceans and public health, focusing on exposures and potential health effects due to anthropogenic and natural factors including: harmful algal blooms, microbes, and chemical pollutants in the oceans; consumption of seafood; and flooding events. We summarize briefly the current state of knowledge about public health effects and their economic consequences; and we discuss priorities for future research.
We find that:
• There are numerous connections between the oceans, human activities, and human health that result in both positive and negative exposures and health effects (risks and benefits); and the study of these connections comprises a new interdisciplinary area, "oceans and human health."
• The state of present knowledge about the linkages between oceans and public health varies. Some risks, such as the acute health effects caused by toxins associated with shellfish poisoning and red tide, are relatively well understood. Other risks, such as those posed by chronic exposure to many anthropogenic chemicals, pathogens, and naturally occurring toxins in coastal waters, are less well quantified. Even where there is a good understanding of the mechanism for health effects, good epidemiological data are often lacking. Solid data on economic and social consequences of these linkages are also lacking in most cases.
• The design of management measures to address these risks must take into account the complexities of human response to warnings and other guidance, and the economic tradeoffs among different risks and benefits. Future research in oceans and human health to address public health risks associated with marine pathogens and toxins, and with marine dimensions of global change, should include epidemiological, behavioral, and economic components to ensure that resulting management measures incorporate effective economic and risk/benefit tradeoffs.