Public health costs and the ocean
In this blog Veronica French describes the context for her co-authored paper An economic perspective on oceans and human health which features in the Oceans and Human Health special issue from Journal of the Marine Biological Association.
“Discussions surrounding the upcoming Rio Olympics have placed connections between the ocean and human health in the spotlight. Testing of Olympic waters has found high levels of disease-causing viruses and bacteria as a result of sewage contamination and there are concerns about the threat this poses to the health of athletes competing in water sports such as rowing and sailing, borne out by athletes falling ill at test events. Lesser known is that on a global scale, the burden of human disease caused by sewage pollution of coastal waters causes an estimated economic loss of about US$ 16 billion a year.
This is not to ignore the positive connections between human health and the ocean which are equally important and impactful, such as the ‘Blue Gym’ effect, referring to the use of the coastal environment to promote both mental and physical health and wellbeing. These less tangible effects (in terms of monetary value) are gaining recognition but are not currently measured in economic terms. And so it follows that although awareness of the connection between the ocean and human health is growing, as yet these connections are not formally accounted for in impact assessments or decision-making.
The importance of taking an economic perspective on the effects the ocean has on health is clear when considering that future activity in our marine environment is largely framed by the Blue Growth strategy (Europe’s long term strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole, with a particular focus on developing the aquaculture, coastal tourism, marine biotechnology, ocean energy and seabed mining sectors). If future decisions are based on consideration of economic growth using only existing measures of valuation, then human health effects could be completely overlooked.
Recommended actions to change the status quo include developing guidelines for the inclusion of non-market values in impact assessments, such as the psychological and physical health benefits of the Blue Gym effect (resulting in decreased healthcare costs), increased reporting of marine-related illnesses, and more comprehensive and standardized European surveillance systems.
Taking an economic perspective on the ocean and human health will give us a greater chance of managing our marine environment in a sustainable way and Europe now has the opportunity to enhance its leadership in this field hand-in-hand with Blue Growth.”