Connecting the One Health approach to the ocean-climate nexus
The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) aims at the development of good science to ensure the conservation of the ocean, the sustainability of its uses and the protection of ocean health. Nevertheless, there is no common understanding of what “ocean health” could encompass under the Decade, and definitions in the literature differ, depending on the scientific discipline concerned.
This blog post shares preliminary findings about some disconnects between the international processes and research on the health of the ocean, on the one hand, and the processes and research on the One Health approach, on the other hand. The post then makes the case for addressing this knowledge gap under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Paris Agreement, as well as under the Convention on Biological Diversity.
UN Decade of Ocean Science and disconnects with research on the One Health approach
The UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) released «The science we need for the ocean we want », where the IOC indicated that they see the Ocean Decade as an « opportunity to engage the ocean science community in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals ».
The publication mentions the ocean health and evokes major themes that can be related to ocean health as seen from environmental, ecosystemic and bio-physical lenses. However, no mention is made of the One Health approach. Another group of concepts is related to the governance of the oceans, and to the legal and political dimensions of the management of ecosystems and marine resources.
The Ocean Decade is expected to help strengthen the development and implementation of science-based solutions but the ongoing scientific research on the ocean is barely in line with the challenges identified by the Ocean Decade. While the goal of the Ocean Decade is to protect the ocean health, there is no common scientific definition of ocean health.
On the other hand, separate processes and research are concerned with the One Health approach, which can be defined as a multisectoral, and transdisciplinary approach—at the local, regional, national, and global levels, to achieve optimal health outcomes recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment.
We analysed the meta-data of 4,886 scientific papers mentioning the One Health (period 2004- April 2021), as found in the Web of Science. Only 24 of them mention at least one of the 76 expressions of the UN Decade directly related to the ocean, such as the « blue economy”, “marine conservation”, “marine pollution”, “ocean acidification”, “ocean literacy”, “marine and coastal environment” or “coastal communities”. In contrast, 4,377 One Health articles contain at least one of the 148 keywords of the UN Decade that relate to the field of governance.
Thus, very little research is yet devoted to the links between the ocean science, and human, animal health and health of the marine environment. The potential contributions of the One Health approach in marine resources management and use, particularly biological and genetic resources, also seem to be relatively poorly identified and explored. Conversely, «The science we need for the ocean we want » does not integrate a One Health perspective into the initiatives it promotes. While the UN Decade and One Health can easily find a common area of action through the establishment of multi-level governance, marine sciences in connection with human, animal and marine ecosystem health are not yet in a position to nourish this governance with a body of knowledge that could inform public action.
The ocean acts as a global climate control system. It also provides life support to all species on Earth and thus contributes to human and animal health. The preservation of ocean health in all its dimension (biological, physical, economic and social) is crucial for the existence of life on Earth, including as part of climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Through an analysis of the interlinkages between ocean-related concepts and governance-related concepts conducted in the South Pacific and involving our colleagues at the University of South Pacific (USP) and various local and regional stakeholders, we showed how the implementation of the One Health approach in relation to ocean health can contribute to enhancing the science-policy interface. Each ocean-related concept can be studied through a One Health lens, which is particularly useful where the population is highly depend on the ocean and threatened by the negative impacts of climate change and sea level rise. This study has been included in regional and national policy documents, such as the Blue Pacific Ocean Report 2021 for the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner and the National Ocean Policy of Fiji.
The One Ocean Hub seeks address these disconnects, carrying out research on various concrete aspects of One Health in relation to marine conservation, ocean plastics, other forms of marine pollution, and ocean literacy.
After having raised awareness about these disconnects at the Climate COP in Glasgow, we are looking forward to exploring the implications of our research in this area for the Biodiversity COP, expected to be held in Kunming, China, from 25 April-8 May 2022, notably with regard to the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, and in decisions on marine and coastal biodiversity, biodiversity and climate change, and biodiversity and health.
 Note that the word « ocean » is one of these expressions.