Centers for Oceans and Human Health: contributions to an emerging discipline. Introduction. Academic Article uri icon


  • The oceans are the dominant feature of the planet and are fundamentally linked to human history and to human health. Concerns about the impact of the oceans on human health can be traced to ancient times. Jewish law prohibited the consumption of shellfish, probably reflecting the fact that filter-feeding bivalves can accumulate pathogens and toxins. The Portuguese explorer Pedro Fernandes de Queirós described symptoms associated with ciguatera fish poisoning after eating Caribbean sea bream in 1606, and several of British explorer James Cook's crew experienced similar symptoms after eating fish off the coast of Vanuatu in 1774 [1]. Roughly 1,200 people died from the consumption of fish and shellfish contaminated with methyl mercury in Minamata (Japan) during the 20th century; an even larger number were affected by chronic long-term neurotoxicological impacts [2]. A tsunami caused by an undersea earthquake on December 26, 2004 killed more than 225,000 people in eleven countries bordering the Indian Ocean; and more than 1,400 people died within a single day when the storm surge generated by Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the New Orleans levee system on August 29, 2005 [3]. Looking ahead, the International Panel on Climate Change has projected a sea level rise of as much as 88 cm during the 21st century as a result of global warming [4], with major implications for the welfare and sustainability of coastal communities.

publication date

  • November 7, 2008