Public Health and the Marine Studies Initiative

Public Health is … connected to the world’s marine environment.

It’s about our relationship as humans to our coastal environment. And its affect on our life, health and culture.

The world’s oceans belong to everyone, and we have a responsibility to protect them, and by doing so protect human health.

Human societies increasingly rely on the sea for renewable food and energy, recreation and a wide range of ecosystem services. In addition, Native Americans and other coastal communities have strong cultural and historic connections with the sea.

Part of the OSU Marine Studies Initiative, the college plays a role in enhancing our understanding and in developing new approaches that support long-term, sustainable use of a wide range of marine resources while maintaining the beauty and wildness of the coast.

Here are a few of the ways we do just that …

Dietary benefits and risks of seafood consumption

The Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Food, Nutrition and Preventive Health, along with our programs in nutrition and dietetics improve our understanding of the benefits of fish consumption and their micronutrients. Additionally, faculty in our Environmental and Occupational Health Program examine different risk assessment models that balance the health benefits of seafood consumption with the risks posed by contaminants in seafood to craft public health advisories regarding fish consumption.

Seafood is generally recognized as a healthy source of protein, polyunsaturated fatty acids, trace minerals and vitamins. It is critical to provide a strong evidence-base for both the benefits and risks associated with seafood consumption, as well as the impact of harvesting, processing, production, food preparation and individual life stage. Our research strengths in human nutrition and public health could play a major role in further exploring these factors and other nutritional benefits for consumers.

Information on the health benefits and risks of consuming seafood can be confusing to the public. We can build on existing strengths in public health and outreach to better inform consumers and institutions about dietary choices that promote healthier people, make food supplies more secure and help fishing communities thrive.

Cultural heritage

Many Native American tribes and coastal communities inherit a rich marine history and share strong cultural ties with the ocean. These tribes include the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Grand Ronde, Lower Umpqua, Siuslaw, Siletz, Umatilla and Coquille, as well as the Swinomish and Samish.

Occupational and Environmental Health faculty engage in research with tribal members from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation to study polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) exposures in volunteers who smoke salmon using traditional methods. And researchers from OSU’s Superfund Research Program are collaborating with two northwestern Tribes, the Swinomish and the Samish, to analyze environmental samples for contaminants using butter clams.

The goal with these studies is to address Tribal concerns regarding their environmental exposures, build Tribal capacity to measure environmental pollutants, and develop risk reduction strategies that will improve health without adversely affecting cultural practices.

Emergency preparedness and management

The ocean is as beautiful as it is dangerous. Helping communities anticipate and manage issues related to coastal disasters, including food safety and security, water supply, risk and disaster communication, community resilience, vulnerable populations and disease transmission is vital not only to health, but also survival. This work is led by faculty Anna Harding and Jeff Bethel.

Occupational health and safety

Commercial fishing significantly contributes to Oregon’s coastal and state economy, and addressing the safety and health issues of those employed in the fishing industry is being studied by our faculty. Laurel Kincl has active NIOSH research grants focused on reducing injuries in the Dungeness Crab fishing fleet along the entire Pacific Coast of the United States.

Health impacts of climate change

The health costs of climate change are predicted to be immense in terms of both dollars and human life. Issues include heat-related deaths, changing disease distribution patterns, food production issues, increasingly severe weather events and respiratory issues related to air quality. Perry Hystad’s work intersects that of ocean scientists, who can demonstrate how people affect ocean health and vice versa.

Global health and oceans

The oceans connect Pacific Rim nations in very substantial ways, and these connections impact the health of much of the world’s population. We can no longer take a nationalistic view of health issues. Faculty and student members of our Center for Global Health and Environmental and the Occupational Health Program are part of this theme.

Family dynamics among coastal families

Many types of families live along the coast, including fishing families, who many experience the extended absence of a family member, as well as Coast Guard families, who may experience frequent relocation or social isolation. Faculty and student members of our Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families and the Human Development and Family Studies Program are part of this theme.

Ocean literacy for youth

We use several approaches in helping young people understand how the ocean affects their lives through weather, climate, economy, health and culture. These include 4-H Youth Development marine science clubs, marine science camps, service projects, youth-led initiatives related to ocean health, marine ROVs, and wave and wind energy exploration.