Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Blue Economy

By Audrey Xu

There are many health and economic benefits of the blue economy. According to the World Economic Forum, the blue economy is a solution to “climate change, equity and biodiversity loss.” Human health is closely related to ocean health. Water covers approximately 70% of our planet, providing us the resources and energy that we consume daily. 62 million Americans swim in coastal waters annually and can be at risk for infections. Infections by pathogens like V. vulnificus that are commonly contacted by humans in warm coastal waters have a fatality rate of 50% and cause approximately 80,000 cases yearly, proving that human health can be closely related to oceans. 

There is an emerging field of study called Oceans and Human Health (OHH). This field is composed of “oceanography, marine biology, ecology, biomedical science, environmental health science, medicine, public health, social sciences, economics, and communication science.” This field had evolved over years, from focusing on the illness directly related to exposure to only water bodies like ocean, Great Lakes, and coasts to covering freshwater bodies and their health-promoting effect. According to Environmental Health, the need to approach the connections between human health and the ocean through an interdisciplinary approach has been increasing. 

With such demand for interdisciplinary studies, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has granted many Oceans and Human Health centers and research projects. Some of the projects funded include “Incorporating the Microbiome into DR2 Activities to Inform Health Outcomes” led by Joseph Petrosino, Ph.D. at Baylor College of Medicine focusing on disaster, “Environmental Influences on Pregnancy Outcomes After Hurricane Michael” led by Emily Harville, Ph.D. at the Tulane University of Louisiana focusing on chemical pollutant, algae blooms, and disaster, and “Molecular Mechanisms of Marine Organohalogen Bioaccumulation and Neurotoxicity” led by Amro Hamdoun, Ph.D. at the University of California, San Diego focusing on chemical pollutants. 

Photo by RephiLe water on Unsplash

According to ScienceDirect, OHH programs have been contributing to the blue economy. One instance would be that the United Nations announced a 2021-2030 plan named Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development that incorporates medical and public health experts into the field of ocean health. They already have many publications in the past two years. This development plan will continue to facilitate the innovation of science-based strategies and responses for ocean sustainability and management. 

Many studies focus solely either on blue economy or United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), when in fact these two goals are interdependent and have overlapping challenges in terms of stakeholders and actors. As indicated by the United Nations, there are still financial barriers at various organization and community levels, issues regarding equity in land and resources, and unknown socioeconomic aspects of the blue economy to be resolved. 

However, there is evidence suggesting promoting the blue economy supports both environmental sustainability and economic wellbeing. America’s marine economy created 2.3 million jobs in 2018, based on information provided by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. Companies in the blue economy field also earned more than 1 billion in 2018. Therefore, one can be hopeful that as more work is being put into the blue economy, more challenges can be overcome in the process itself. 


Audrey Xu is a senior at Stanford University studying Human Biology. She is passionate about writing and learning about issues in education, environmental science, and health through an equity lens. Although she did not come from a journalism background, she had exposed and witnessed many events by living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She loves to spend time outdoors. Before writing for AltaSea, she had written articles for AcclimateWest on youth engagement, environmental justice and climate change.

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