(From Fall 2013 Newsletter) Dr. Rita Colwell, University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University
The link between public health and the oceans is important, but often poorly understood. Traditionally, there has been very little integration between the disciplines of public health and oceanography. A new field of “Oceans and Human Health” has emerged in the last decade that explores the potential direct impact of the oceans on human health in areas, notably global climate change, harmful algal blooms and contamination of marine waters and seafood1. The mission of the GoMRI is to improve society’s ability to understand, respond to, and mitigate impacts of petroleum pollution, with emphasis on the Gulf of Mexico. As the program completes its third year, understanding public health impacts of oil spills remains a key issue for GoMRI.
In July of this year, GoMRI invited a panel of experts to explore the intersection between public health, oceanography, and oil spill science. The goal of the meeting was to inform the GoMRI Research Board of ongoing research and future directions for investment related to public health impacts of oil spills, with a focus on the Deepwater Horizon event. Discussions during the workshop included consideration of and approaches to research in these areas, as well as the value of interdisciplinary research in solving public health problems associated with oil spills. A report from the workshop has been posted on the GoMRI website and will provide a framework for Theme 5 “Impacts of oils spills on Public Health” for the next RFP. The National Academies of Science has also acknowledged the importance of public health in its new Gulf Program, stating that their program will include human health, environmental protection, and issues related to offshore oil drilling, hydrocarbon production, and transportation.
GoMRI looks forward to working with the scientific community to foster cooperation between oceanographers and human health workers to improve future response to oil spills and related coastal disasters.
1L.E. Fleming, K. Broad, A. Clement, E. Dewailly, S. Elmir, A. Knap, S.A. Pomponi, S. Smith, H. Solo Gabriele, P. Walsh, Oceans and human health: Emerging public health risks in the marine environment, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 53, Issues 10–12, 2006, Pages 545-560, ISSN 0025-326X, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2006.08.012.