In conjunction with World Oceans Day on June 8th, esteemed researchers from institutions worldwide have published a compelling paper in the prestigious journal The Lancet, affirming that human health depends on thriving oceans.

The new Lancet article underscores the immense value of oceans, highlighting their critical role in carbon storage, climate regulation, food provision, and even medicinal resources. The comment calls for urgent attention to the links between human health and oceans, emphasizing the necessity of a precautionary approach to maintain the ecosystem integrity of our oceans.

Authors of the paper are Aaron Jenkins Edith Cowan University and University of Sydney; Alana Malinde S. N. Lancaster from The University of the West Indies and the One Ocean Hub; Anthony Capon of Monash University; Katy Soapi of the Pacific Community Centre for Ocean Science, The Pacific Community (SPC); Lora E Fleming of the European Centre for Environment and Human Health; and Stacy Jupiter of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Melanesia Program.

The authors point out that human health risks linked to climate and ocean changes disproportionately affect low-income countries and small island states. They stress that preserving ocean health equates to safeguarding and promoting economies, food security, and the health and wellbeing of these vulnerable communities.

In their comment, the authors discuss the significance of the Draft Agreement on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction, finalized by the UN in March 2023. Also known as the Treaty of the High Seas, this landmark accord aims to manage biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction and seeks to ensure fair access to, and distribution of, health benefits arising from novel discoveries in the high seas.

The authors laud the Draft Agreement's inclusion of indigenous people and local communities, which promotes active participation in creating strategies for the conservation of marine biodiversity in high seas. They also note the importance of Marine Genetic Resources (MGRs) – one of the main focus areas of the Draft Agreement – for future improvements in human health.

While the Draft Agreement is a significant step forward, the authors emphasize that its success depends on a combination of national, regional, and international action within a framing the opportunities as well as risks to human health and wellbeing. It also requires the involvement of stakeholders from diverse backgrounds, including health professionals, environmentalists, non-governmental organizations, governments, businesses, indigenous people, and local communities.

On this World Oceans Day, let us heed this urgent call to safeguard our oceans, recognizing that our health, wellbeing, and survival are inextricably linked with the health of the world's oceans.

Quotes from Authors:

Lead Author Aaron Jenkins, Senior Research Fellow, School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for People, Place and Planet and School of Science, Edith Cowan University: “The ocean is our mother; she sustains life and purifies our spirits. Let us honour her with reverence, respect, and reciprocity. For it is in preserving her wellness, we preserve our own”

Tony Capon, Director, Monash Sustainable Development Institute and Professor of Planetary Health, Monash University: “The draft UN High Seas Treaty is an important step forward in our collective efforts to safeguard the wellbeing of future generations of people around the world.”

Lora E Fleming, Professor, Chair European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School,  College of Medicine and Health, University of Exeter: “For me as a physician and epidemiologist, the evidence demonstrates that our future human health and wellbeing are inextricably tied to the health of the seas, coasts and Ocean”

Stacy Jupiter, Melanesia Regional Director, Wildlife Conservation Society, 2019 MacArthur Fellow: “The ocean provides food for over three billion people on our planet. It regulates the Earth’s climate. We must look after the ocean to look after ourselves.”

Alana Malinde S. N. Lancaster, Lecturer in Law and Head: Environmental Law, Ocean Governance & Climate Justice Unit, Faculty of Law, The University of the West Indies; Co-Investigator, One Ocean Hub: “Oceans are both historically and contemporarily a central feature to human health, since they promote food, nutrition, livelihoods, culture and wellbeing, while also facilitating the spread of disease and death during colonization. Today oceans are a critical resource to combatting the impacts on human health from climate change, biodiversity and pollution through an interdisciplinary approach, based on fairness, equity, access  and benefit sharing between the Global North and Global South. The Draft BBNJ Agreement incorporates a suite of features which are fundamental to achieving these goals, and Co-Is at the One Ocean Hub support this view of oceans and human health in our research, collaborations and policy inputs to, for example, ocean plastics and the right to human health; our contributions to the draft of the global pandemic treaty; and to the human right to health climate change and ecosystem services in areas beyond national jurisdiction.”

Katy Soapi, Pacific Community Centre for Ocean Science Coordinator, The Pacific Community (SPC): “For the people of Oceania, our existence, prosperity, and well-being cannot be separated from the health of the ocean - when we care for the ocean, we care for ourselves, our livelihood, our health, and safeguard our future.”