Does human health suffer from marine pollution?

Does human health suffer from marine pollution?

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The sea - the sewer of the world

The sea is the largest ecosystem on earth. For centuries it has provided people with a basis for existence and nutrition. But the sea has never been as bad as it is today. Overfishing, destruction, pollution, thermal stress and acidification cause massive damage to the ecosystem. How long can the sea hold out and what impact will this have on humans? The terrifying thing is: Nobody knows!

In a current study, researchers from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel draw attention to the catastrophic condition of the oceans and advocate that the link between the condition of the oceans and human health should become more of a focus of research. The study was recently presented in the international journal "One Earth".

We hit the hand that feeds us

The sea has always influenced people's health - as a source of food, a livelihood, a recreation area and above all as an oxygen producer. The consequences of the rapidly progressive destruction of this ecosystem on humans have so far been unknown. The whole world is actively involved in the destruction, but nobody seems to feel really responsible for the protection.

Oceans under pressure

The threats to the ecosystem are complex. Industrial, agricultural and private wastewater ends up in the sea, as does plastic and microplastics. At the same time, more and more coastal areas are being destroyed and fish stocks are being decimated by overfishing. In addition, there is the thermal stress caused by global warming and overacidification, which is hard on limestone shellfish such as mussels, corals and crabs.

State of the ocean affects human health

Even though awareness of a healthy environment has increased among many people, the ocean is currently not in focus. The team at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel now emphasizes that human health is also at risk if the state of the ocean deteriorates further.

Human activities endanger the ocean ecosystem

30 international scientists from various disciplines were now looking for ideas and ways of stopping this spiral of destruction. "Protecting the ocean and restoring its health is one of the UN's goals for sustainable development and is increasingly becoming the focus of international politics, as human activities increasingly endanger the ocean ecosystem," emphasizes student author Dr. Andrea Franke.

When is an ocean considered healthy?

So far, there is not even a rating system that can be used to measure the current state of the oceans. "Various actors find it difficult to agree on a common definition of the term ocean health," explains Franke. The team therefore developed a framework concept that can be used to assess the health of the ocean. The system is not only important for the assessment of ocean health, but also essential for determining the associated interactions with humans.

Everyone has to pull together

"Healthy seas are also an important basis for human health and well-being," the interdisciplinary team is convinced. "Science, society, industry and politics must work together to initiate active measures to restore ocean health," emphasizes Franke. Only with transdisciplinary concepts can the oceans be better protected and used more sustainably. (vb)

Also read: Microplastics in food: what health risks are there?

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • European Marine Board: Policy Needs for Oceans and Human Health, May 2020,
  • Andrea Franke, Thorsten Blenckner, Carlos M. Duarte, u.a .: Operationalizing Ocean Health: Toward Integrated Research on Ocean Health and Recovery to Achieve Ocean Sustainability; in: Cell - One Earth, 2020,
  • GEOMAR: What is good for the sea is also good for people (published: June 12, 2020),

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